TechU.S. Army abandons billion-dollar FARA program: Sikorsky Raider X and Bell Textron 360 Invictus grounded

U.S. Army abandons billion-dollar FARA program: Sikorsky Raider X and Bell Textron 360 Invictus grounded

Bell 360 Invictus Helicopter
Bell 360 Invictus Helicopter
Images source: © Bell

2:44 PM EST, February 9, 2024

The Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft (FARA) program was geared towards constructing a state-of-the-art attack reconnaissance helicopter to replace the retired OH-58D Kiowa Warrior helicopters from 2017.

The program initiated in 2018, with approximately 2 billion dollars invested into it. Sikorsky Raider X and Bell Textron 360 Invictus were the top contenders for the Pentagon order.

The Sikorsky Raider X was notably innovative, boasting two counter-rotating, co-axial main rotors along with a push propeller at the rear enabling high speeds. It was projected to hit up to 286 mph, significantly higher than the average 186 mph of contemporary helicopters.

On the other hand, the Bell Textron 360 Invictus offered a more conventional option, sharing a resemblance with the RAH-66 Comanche helicopter.

The Comanche Curse

The RAH-66 Comanche's similarities don't end there. The helicopter, which first took flight in 1996, was also designed to supplant the OH-58D Kiowa Warrior helicopters — a goal repeated by the FARA program two decades later. Despite reaching the prototype stage, the Comanche's development was abruptly halted in 2004 after spending around 7 billion dollars. The decision was attributed to escalating costs and the growing predominance of unmanned systems.

The suspension of the FARA program goes beyond merely hindering the progress of two innovative helicopters. The deployment of the cutting-edge General Electric T901-GE-900 engine has also been delayed.

This new power unit was not only planned for the Raider X and 360 Invictus helicopters but was also considered for the upgraded versions of the AH-64E Apache Guardian and UH-60M/V Black Hawk. Additionally, it was intended to power the futuristic Bell V-280 Valor, touted as the Black Hawk's successor.

Therefore, the FARA program's suspension significantly impacts the ongoing initiative to develop a new aviation segment within the U.S. Army.

Abandonment of Reconnaissance Helicopters

The unexpected termination of this long-term, multi-billion-dollar program appears to be informed by the Pentagon's takeaways from the war in Ukraine.

As per American analysis, the approach to reconnaissance has evolved dramatically. Nowadays, the leading role is played by sensors on unmanned systems and the widespread access to inexpensive and rapid satellite reconnaissance.

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