The US Army reportedly spent at least $2 billion on the project, which began in 2018, before announcing the end of $7 billion Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft (FARA) on February 8, 2024. In a statement, US Army Chief of Staff Randy George indicated that this decision was made after a study of combat experience in the Russia – Ukraine war revealed that “air reconnaissance has fundamentally changed.” “Sensors and weaponry put on various unmanned systems and in space have become more widespread, longer-range, and less expensive than ever before,” Randy George stated.
The FARA was intended to replace the 1960s vintage Bell OH-58 Kiowa scout helicopter, which was entirely retired from service in 2020. Thus, the US Army’s fourth attempt in the last 30 years to develop a new reconnaissance and attack helicopter has failed—following the termination of the Boeing Sikorsky RAH-66 Comanche helicopter programme in 2004, the cancellation of the Armed Reconnaissance Helicopter ( Bell ARH-70 Arapaho helicopter) programme in 2008, and the termination of the Armed Aerial Scout programme in 2013 (a programme aimed at creating a helicopter of this purpose based on one of the serial commercial designs).
The FARA programme sought to build a futuristic reconnaissance and attack helicopter to supplement the US Army Aviation’s combat helicopters, the Boeing AH-64 Apache family. In April 2019, the US Army awarded contracts worth approximately $15 million each to five companies for the development of conceptual designs under the FARA programme: AVX Aircraft (in partnership with L-3 Communications Integrated Systems), Bell (a Textron subsidiary), Boeing, Karem Aircraft (with involvement from Northrop Grumman and Raytheon), and Sikorsky (a Lockheed Martin Corporation subsidiary), with conceptual designs due by March 2020.
In March 2020, the US Army chose the Sikorsky (Lockheed Martin) Raider X and Bell 360 Invictus helicopter concepts for the second round of the FARA programme competition.
As a result, Bell’s entry for the FARA programme competition was the completely new Bell 360 Invictus helicopter design, the conceptual design of which was unveiled on October 1, 2019. The Bell 360 Invictus resembled the RAH-66 Comanche reconnaissance and attack helicopter, originally designed jointly for the US Army by Boeing and Sikorsky but was cancelled by the US Army in 2004 due to cost constraints. The Bell 360’s rotor system was based on the Bell 525 helicopter system, although the 40-foot rotor diameter was designed to have just four blades rather than five. The tail rotor, like the Comanche, was a fenestron arrangement. It had two enormous carrying wings. The helicopter was fitted with a fly-by-wire control technology and had a two-person crew. The Bell 360 Invictus was designed to have a cruising speed of more than 330 km/h at maximum takeoff weight, which was unspecified. The combat radius was reportedly about 217 kilometres, with a loiter duration of 90 minutes. The armament included a turret-mounted 20mm three-barreled cannon and weapon pylons to hold up to 635 kilograms of armaments.
In October 2019, Sikorsky presented the Sikorsky Raider X (S-102) helicopter project for participation in the FARA programme competition, which was essentially a downsized single-engine version of the experimental high-speed S-97 Raider helicopter with Sikorsky’s newly developed coaxial counter-rotating main rotor system and a pusher propeller driven by the main rotors’ gearbox. Sikorsky tested this configuration on the experimental X2 helicopter from 2008 to 2011 and achieved a maximum speed of 460 km/h, as well as on the demonstrator of the 5-ton S-97 Raider helicopter, which has been tested since May 2015 and has a “passport” maximum speed of 444 km/h and a cruising speed of 407 km/h. The Raider X was said to have a top speed of 460 km/h at an altitude of 2700 m. The helicopter’s maximum takeoff weight was stated to be 6400 kilograms.
Both FARA helicopter designs were supposed to be powered by the General Electric T901 turboshaft engine, which had a power rating of 3000 horsepower and was developed under the Improved Turbine Engine Programme (ITEP).
According to the plans, during the second phase of the FARA programme, the two selected competition participants would build flight prototypes, with testing set to commence in the first quarter of the fiscal year 2023. Following the final selection of one model, serial production was considered possible beginning in 2028.
However, the prototypes of both FARA programme contenders have yet to fly. In 2022, it was decided to begin flight testing of the first prototypes in the fiscal year 2024. One reason for the delay was the difficulty in finalising the T901 engine.
As a result, the FARA programme has been terminated, while the ITEP (T901) engine programme has been temporarily suspended. Nonetheless, it is stated that the US Army aims to complete the FARA programme by the end of the fiscal year 2024, allowing the Army and industry to complete the development of technologies that can be applied to other programmes. It is unclear whether this means that rival prototypes will still be airborne, at least during the early stage of flight testing.
It is also reported that, as part of the decisions to restructure the US Army Aviation’s R&D and procurement programmes, along with the termination of the FARA programme, a decision was made to end the programme for modernising operational Sikorsky UH-60L Black Hawk helicopters into the UH-60V variant. Instead, serial acquisitions of the UH-60M Black Hawk helicopter will continue. The acquisition of Boeing CH-47F Chinook Block II transport helicopters will also be extended and expanded. Furthermore, the Future Long-Range Assault Aircraft (FLRAA) programme, which aims to replace the US Army Aviation’s UH-60 Black Hawk family helicopters with the Bell V-280 Valour tiltrotor by the end of 2022, will move forward. Serial manufacture of tilt rotors is expected to begin in the fiscal year 2030.
In light of the cancellation of the FARA programme, the US Army will focus its efforts on building new reconnaissance UAVs. As a result of the experience gained from the war in Ukraine, the US Army plans to hasten the retirement of outmoded tactical reconnaissance UAVs RQ-7 Shadow (now 575 of these devices) and small reconnaissance UAVs RQ-11 Raven (up to 19 thousand are in service). To replace the RQ-7 Shadow UAVs, it is intended to hasten the second stage (Increment 2) of the Future Tactical Unmanned Aircraft System (FTUAS) programme, with brigade-level serial unmanned complex deliveries beginning in the fiscal year 2025.