The war in Ukraine has made the US military suspicious of attack helicopters that fly “high and slow” and instead wants those that can fly “low and fast”, can fight at night and can be more “cognitively easy” to fly – allowing the crew to focus on the fight.
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Major General Walter Rugen, director of the Future Vertical Lift Cross-Functional Team within US Army Futures Command, made the observations at a conference hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).
Rugen also spoke of the need for missiles with greater range, dual-purpose sensors, and the ability to “converge” information from multiple assets into a single interface to allow commanders to make faster battlefield decisions. .
Rugen’s statement comes against the backdrop of the military’s two vital procurement programs – Future Long Range Assault Aircraft (FLRAAC) and Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft (FARA). Both are part of the larger Future Vertical Lift (FVL) project.
While the FLAARC is intended to replace the Sikorsky S-80 Black Hawk, the FARA is intended to replace the AH-64 Apache; both are expected to occur by the 2030s.
For FLAARC, Sikorsky-Boeing’s Defiant X, a contra-rotor (or coaxial rotor) helicopter, and Bell’s V-280 tiltrotor, both technology demonstrators (TDs), were extensively tested.
FARA, on the other hand, has Bell’s 360 Invictus and Sikorsky’s Raider X as contenders, the latter being a shorter, slightly modified version of the Defiant X.
Lessons from Ukraine
To say that the speed and range would allow future rotorcraft to stay clear of surface-to-air fires indicated that Rugen was talking about several Russian Kamov Ka-52 alligator and Mil Mi-17 helicopters shot down in Ukraine and other similar Ukrainian helicopters. like the Mi-8 that fell into the hands of the Russian air defense.
But these losses likely occurred because these helicopters were in the enemy’s “web of destruction” (or the destruction zone as it is commonly called).
“There’s a lot of clutter when you lower down. If you don’t take advantage of the crowding and do a lot of flying in the day, that’s higher than we like, which is a problem. This unlocks weapon systems like Infrared (IR) weapon systems which are very good when flying high during the day. Thus, matter low and fast. There are plenty of places to hide when you’re staying low,” Rugen said.
This means that the military plans to use the chaos and confusion in the middle of the battlefield to reduce the chances of becoming targets for surface-to-air missiles and air defense.
It can be safely assumed that these will have been overwhelmed by their own friendly and enemy aircraft in addition to persistent electronic warfare and jamming, even more during the night.
Rugen cited unnamed “effective” Ukrainian cross-border actions using rotorcraft that occurred in “harsh” and “deadly” environments where the aircraft was supposedly flying low and fast. This low and fast flight is supposedly aided by four techno-tactical changes that Rugen hopes to see.
Cognitive cockpit, one-stop data sharing, longer range missiles and swarm drones
The first is a more “cognitively” accessible cockpit that can share a greater flight load while crew and pilots focus on combat. Rugen hopes this can be achieved with dual-use sensors in response to a question about what complementary technologies he thinks can support low-speed, autonomous flying cockpits.
“When a sensor does not do survivability, can it do lethality? Can it protect against obstacles and degraded visual environments? “We want the cockpit to be cognitively easier than it is today. So cognitive offloading with sensors would be great,” Rugen adds.
This means that the sensors of a Missile Approach Warning System (MAWS), Laser Warning Detector (LWD) or Radar Warning Receiver (RWR) should serve as a warning system. obstacle warning or object proximity alert. These can help negotiate difficult terrain like mountainous regions, coastal areas or urban warfare environments.
Second, the ability to gather, process, and transmit data from multiple assets and allied forces (such as NATO nations) over a unified interface, which Rugen called a “single pane of glass,” enabling decision-making. faster and more efficient.
This will allow a “convergence” of the “effects” of combined arms and friendly (NATO) forces on the battlefield. The “glass” reference is a transparent glass panel typically seen in command centers with maps and markings of the battlefield situation.
Third, greater “standoff” capability with missiles reaching over 30 kilometers, more than double what Rugen’s generation was used to with the AGM-114 Hellfire’s 11 kilometers.
“(It may) open up an opportunity to maneuver to seize the position advantage on good ground or present multiple dilemmas to our enemy,” Rugen said. He added that the fate of rotorcraft in Ukraine and the Nagorno-Karabakh war at the end of 2020 laid bare the importance of a more outstanding confrontational capability before the US military.
“Those who didn’t (stalemate) had much tougher days, and those who did have that stalemate were decisive against the long-range fires they were able to reduce,” he added. .
The latest is the Future Unmanned Systems (FUS) program, which is basically expendable, attritable, simple, modular swarm drones/UAVs/UASs with sensors for lethal and non-lethal effects. Rugen spoke of an air-launched effect (ALE) drone the U.S. military encountered, which he said could “flood the battlefield (and) present dilemmas to the adversary.”