While much of the DoD studies are assessments or have other woolly descriptions, JFVL (Joint Future Theatre Lift) does incorporate a more concrete programme in JMR, or Joint Multi-Role. The US Army told that JMR ‘seeks to begin designing several demonstrator aircraft by 2013 and conduct a first flight in 2017 as a series of first steps toward developing a next-generation fleet of helicopters.’
The Joint Multi-Role has had input from the US Office of the Secretary of Defense, other military services, the US Coast Guard, Special Operations Command and even NASA. Planned mission sets for the JMR include cargo, utility, armed scout, attack, humanitarian assistance, medevac, antisubmarine warfare, anti-surface warfare, land/ sea search and rescue, special warfare support, vertical replenishment and airborne mine countermeasures.
Deemed a ‘subset’ of JFVL, JMR is led by the US Army’s Aviation and Missile Research, Development and Engineering Center (AMRDEC), which is based at Redstone Arsenal, Alabama. The JMR has two phases. Phase one includes an 18-month configuration and trades analysis. The government and its industry partners will conduct analytical studies and trade assessments designed to ‘articulate the scope of what might be technically possible’. These initial findings will help inform the specifications for the demonstrators that will then be built. The demonstrators will also be used to inform the requirements for the new aircraft, because maturing technology could change them. AMRDEC has awarded concept trade and analysis deals through its Aviation Applied Technology Directorate (AATD), which is based in Fort Eustis, Virginia.
AMRDEC/AATD has awarded 18-month technology investment agreements to Boeing, a Bell-Boeing team, Sikorsky, and a 15-month contract to a company of former Bell engineers, AVX Aircraft. This company is also competing in the US Army’s Armed Aerial Scout programme, with a contra-rotating twin-rotor helicopter that uses ducted pusher propellers for propulsion, the OH-58D AVX. The Fort Worth, Texas-based AVX Aircraft company’s OH-58D AVX is a variant of the in-service OH-58D Kiowa Warrior. Once phase one of JMR is complete, phase two will focus on further trade studies and the development of mission systems.
But as well as the vast range of missions and maturing technologies, the US Army is clear about what future lift has to offer compared to today’s heavy-lifters: better performance, improved survivability and ‘[it] will have to be a whole lot less expensive to operate than the current fleet’. While the JMR programme includes the exploration of light-, medium-and heavy-lift helicopter variants, this science and technology effort will initially focus on medium-lift options. The idea is that the technology for that class can be scaled up and down as required.