The Bell 360 Invictus on display at the AUSA show in Washington, in the fall of 2019. Credit: Dave Makichuk, Asia Times.

And then, there were two.

Sikorsky, a Lockheed Martin-owned company, and Bell are going “mano a mano” as finalists to build and fly Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft (FARA) prototypes for the US Army in a head-to-head competition, Defense News and Popular Mechanics reported.

The Army is planning to procure both a FARA and Future Long-Range Assault Aircraft (FLRAA) that will slowly replace the current fleet of Sikorsky-manufactured UH-60 Black Hawks utility helicopters and Boeing-made AH-64 Apache attack helicopters.

FARA will fill a critical capability gap currently being filled by Apaches teamed with Shadow unmanned aircraft following the retirement of the OH-58D Kiowa Warriors.

It will be a two-person helicopter externally similar to an attack helicopter but smaller, more nimble, the report said.

It’s mission will primarily be to locate and observe enemy forces, particularly columns of tanks, geolocating their position and passing on the data to artillery, attack helicopters, ground forces, and fighter jets, the report said.

The Army wants an aircraft with long range, enabling it to sweep vast areas of the ground below in its search for the enemy. A small cannon provides self-defense, and FARA will carry anti-tank missiles to take out targets of opportunity, the report said.

Lockheed unveiled its design — Raider X — at the Association of the US Army’s annual conference (AUSA) in Washington, D.C., in October 2019, the report said.

Raider X uses two contra-rotating main rotor blades and a push propeller, utilizing its coaxial technology with a focus on how it will perform “at the X.”

“One thing that always comes out is the importance of this aircraft at the X,” Tim Malia, Sikorsky’s director of future vertical lift light, told Defense News.

“The ‘X’ is defined by the Army as the terminal area where they actually have to go do the work, do the reconnaissance, do the attack mission. The operation at the X is really critical for this program and for this platform.”

Bell’s design — the Bell 360 Invictus — also featured at AUSA, is more traditional and is based on 525 technology. But its design features several key differences, including its size in order to adhere to the Army requirement of 40-foot in diameter rotor blades, the report said.

The design includes a single main rotor in a four-blade configuration, a ducted tail rotor, a low-drag tandem cockpit fuselage and transportability in a C-17, the report said.

“Bell is proud to continue work on the Bell 360 Invictus as part of the Army’s Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft Competitive Prototype competition,” Keith Flail, Bell’s vice president of advanced vertical lift systems, told Defense News.

Both feature a nose-mounted small caliber automatic cannon and anti-tank missiles and both appear to use some shaping to reduce their radar signature, though stealth was not on the Army’s list of requirements, the report said.

This is the Army’s third attempt to replace the Kiowa Warrior scout helicopter.

Analysts say, combined with the threat of lower defense budgets in the 2020s, the Army may choose the cheaper aircraft with lower operating costs, especially if paired with the ability to grow capabilities in the near future.

The prototype aircraft are expected to start flying in the fourth quarter of fiscal 2022, and the flight test is expected to run through 2023.

— Defense News/Popular Mechanics