The Future Armed Reconnaissance Aircraft (FARA) is the U.S. Army's eye towards a future battlefield where fast-moving helicopters support friendly ground forces in contested areas. The initiative falls under the broader "Future Vertical Lift" (FVL) program seeking five distinct helicopter types, these intended to share many common core components, to succeed an aging rotorcraft force led by the Boeing (Hughes) AH-64 "Apache" attack platform and Sikorsky UH-60 "Black Hawk" transport. The program is in response to the advancing age and overall abuse taken by the American helicopter force during prolonged commitments in both "Operation Enduring Freedom" (Afghanistan) and "Operation Iraqi Freedom" (Iraq).
One of the key helicopter types to be succeeded is the Bell OH-58 "Kiowa" armed light scout which was is planned to be retired by the Army service in the mid-2030s. The FARA competition winner is expected to fill the same over-battlefield role but offer considerable benefits in performance, ordnance-carrying capabilities, and modern tactical flexibility.
Long-time helicopter-maker Sikorsky unveiled, in October 2019, its entry into the FARA field through the "Raider-X". The Raider-X is an evolution of the company's proven technology demonstrator, the S-97 "Raider", which sees twin four-bladed (compound) main rotor blades seated co-axially over the fuselage. To enhance straight-line performance, a six-bladed "propulsor" tail rotor is installed at the extreme aft-end of the aircraft in pusher arrangement. Combined, this allows the helicopter to reach speeds in the 215 knot range (the FARA requirement seeks a minimum speed of 180 knots).
The co-axial main rotor arrangement has been a long-held stable of Soviet/Russia military helicopters, primarily originating from the Kamov concern, whereas Western designs have relied heavily on the conventional single main rotor with side-facing tail rotor unit for achieving an anti-torque effect. One of the last major attempts by an American concern to push through a propsulsor-driven design was the Lockheed AH-56 "Cheyenne" attack helicopter of the 1970s - the design was ultimately abandoned and the AH-64 "Apache" took its place.
The Raider-X offering fits this unique helicopter arrangement within a design that is nearly a quarter larger than the original and, thus, heavier at 14,000lb (gross weight). While the S-97 operates with a 34-foot diameter main rotor reach, the Raider-X is expected to field a 39-foot main rotor diameter. As with other FARA entries, Raider-X will be powered by the mandated General Electric T901 turboshaft engine to drive the intended bladed units. However, in the case of the Raider-X, only a single turboshaft figures into the mix which will reduce cost and maintenance requirements (the S-97 demonstrator also relies on a single engine).
One other key quality of the Raider-X not often seen in Western attack helicopter types is its side-by-side cockpit seating (carried over from the S-97 demonstrator), improving communications between the two crewmen and offering a second pair of eyes at the front of the fuselage (as opposed to tandem seating common to attack helicopters). The Russian Kamov Ka-52 "Alligator" attack helicopter utilizes a twin, side-by-side seating arrangement for the same reasons.
Any proposed weapons carried by the Raider-X will be held in internal bays to reduce the aircraft's radar signature. These bays will only open when weapons are ready for release. An added benefit to this quality is aerodynamic efficiency, particularly at higher speeds. Armament will primarily consist of of Anti-Tank Guided Missiles (ATGMs) (such as the proven "Hellfire") but it is assumed that "smart" and "dumb" rockets as well as gun/cannon pods would figure into the mix for suppression of enemy elements at range.
The Sikorsky Raider-X is in direct competition with Bell's Model 360 "Invictus" (detailed elsewhere on this site) which was also revealed in October of 2019. Both are being offered in "unmanned" versions to satisfy the Army's requirement. Sikorsky falls under the Lockheed Martin parent brand label which gives it access to a deep pool of engineers as well as industry weight and project financing. However, Bell Helicopters is also a long-time producer of many successful helicopter designs - including the famous UH-1 "Huey" and AH-1 "Cobra" lines.
The U.S. Army is expecting to choose a winner for the prototype round during 2020 while a direct fly-off between two types is set for 2023. First-deliveries of operational-quality units are expected for sometime in 2028.
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