Sikorsky demonstrated its company-funded S-97 RAIDER helicopter to US Army officials at Redstone Arsenal in early April, showcasing the capabilities of its RAIDER X concept, which it is submitting as a candidate for the Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft (FARA) programme, part of the Army’s Future Vertical Lift (FVL) project to revolutionise its airborne capabilities.
"Since the first BLACK HAWK took to the skies in the 1970s, to when our teams broke helicopter speed records with X2 technology in 2010, we have been working with our Army partners to develop and deliver low-risk, transformational, affordable and sustainable aircraft to support the warfighters' missions," commented Sikorsky President Paul Lemmo. "This is the first of what we believe will be many times our X2 Future Vertical Lift aircraft will fly at Redstone."
RAIDER X will fully integrate Lockheed Martin strengths, such as digital thread, advanced manufacturing, sustainment, training, and weapon and mission system development, manufacture and integration. At Sikorsky, the digital thread is built into current programmes and is being used today in the company’s digital advanced manufacturing facility. This proven, holistic life-cycle approach runs seamlessly throughout the design, development, production, supply chain and sustainment process. Today, all Sikorsky programmes are born in a digital environment. The power of this digital thread drives affordability, producibility and reliability across the aircraft lifecycle.
In addition to the FARA competition, Sikorsky and partner Boeing are offering the DEFIANT X for the Future Long-Range Assault Aircraft (FLRAA) competition. With RAIDER X and DEFIANT X, the Army could have common, scalable aircraft with the mission advantage the Army is looking for. Both FARA and FLRAA are among the Army's top modernisation priorities, intended to address near-peer threats in the multi-domain operations (MDO) of 2030 and beyond.
"Through this week's RAIDER flight and our ongoing test program with DEFIANT, we are demonstrating the future of Army Aviation," commented Kevin Mangum, Lockheed Martin VP, Army Programs. "With RAIDER X, we will fill a critical Army capability gap, providing the speed, reach, lethality and convergence to fight and win on the MDO battlefield, today and into the future. DEFIANT X will be the world's best assault aircraft – like our great BLACK HAWK – for decades to come. Our X2-designed aircraft provide commonality – in parts, systems, maintenance and training. And, DEFIANT X has the same operational footprint as the BLACK HAWK, reducing the Army's total cost of ownership by eliminating any modifications to existing facilities."
Sikorsky has been flying and testing X2 Technology for more than a decade, accumulating nearly 500 hours on its X2 Technology test beds and aircraft, including the X2 Technology Demonstrator, RAIDER and DEFIANT.
During the demonstration flights at Redstone, Sikorsky also discussed its approach to mission and weapons systems integration, manufacturing and sustainment. For example, its FVL aircraft will have more actionable maintenance data, providing commanders with information to accurately assess the state of the weapon systems, as well as the ability to self-diagnose maintenance and predict aircraft availability. That increases operational readiness and availability, and reduces platform life cycle costs. With Sikorsky's Fleet Decision Tool, commanders can aggregate data from individual aircraft, based on operational requirements, aircraft health assessment and maintenance flow, to ensure they are optimising readiness and aircraft availability across the entire fleet.
"This means that I, as a commander, could look at my aircraft battalion and understand the health of each one of the aircraft and prioritize the right aircraft for the next mission," Mangum explained. "This positions us to meet the Army's Maintenance-Free Operating Periods, in which RAIDER X and DEFIANT X helicopters could operate without the need for service for an extended period of time."
Sikorsky's facility in Cummings Research Park in Huntsville, AL, houses about 100 staff dedicated to supporting FVL, US Army BLACK HAWK helicopters and other military aviation programmes. Also located in Huntsville is Sikorsky's RAIDER X Portable Full-Mission Simulator (PFMS), which consists of a full cockpit with a wrap-around dome for out-the-window visuals, which can be updated as the system matures. In addition to basic flying, the cockpit simulates sensors, weapons and a variety of tactical environments. The high-fidelity simulator has welcomed Army aviators at tradeshows and special events around the US since 2018.
In addition, Sikorsky and Boeing have developed a DEFIANT X simulator, which is permanently located at the Sikorsky Huntsville facility. This will allow Army aviators to experience the unique flight characteristics provided by X2 technology as well as experiencing the mission system approach to the FLRAA mission.