Army Ends Future Attack and Reconnaissance Helicopter Development Program

Sikorsky’s Raider X competitive prototype, pictured here, was one of the two prototype helicopters competing for the Army’s Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft (FARA) program. The Army will end the FARA program when prototyping activities for the Raider X and Bell’s Invictus 360 are complete later this year. (Image: Sikorsky)

The U.S. Army announced in a Feb. 8 statement that it will end development of the Future Attack and Reconnaissance Aircraft (FARA) when prototyping activities are completed later this year. Additionally, the Army is phasing out operations of "systems that are not capable or survivable on today’s battlefield including the Shadow and Raven unmanned aircraft systems,” according to the statement.

Army officials described the discontinuation of the FARA program as rebalancing of their aviation modernization investments. The FARA program was one half of the two main programs for the Army's Future Vertical Lift (FVL) initiative, which also separately includes the Future Long Range Assault Aircraft (FLRAA), which will continue. As a development program, the Army's goal with FARA was to develop a "jackknife" helicopter to fill the gap left by the retired OH-58D Kiowa Warrior.

FLRAA in contrast is intended to deliver an initial concept design for the helicopter that will ultimately supplement the Army's UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter fleet for fast assault medical evacuation roles. In its statement ending FARA development, the Army also noted that the FLRAA program has entered the engineering and manufacturing development phase.

“We are learning from the battlefield—especially in Ukraine—that aerial reconnaissance has fundamentally changed,” said the Chief of Staff of the Army, General Randy George. “Sensors and weapons mounted on a variety of unmanned systems and in space are more ubiquitous, further reaching, and more inexpensive than ever before. I am confident the Army can deliver for the Joint Force, both in the priority theater and around the globe, by accelerating innovation, procurement and fielding of modern unmanned aircraft systems, including the Future Tactical Unmanned Aircraft System, launched effects, and commercial small unmanned aircraft systems.”

As part of this transformational rebalancing, the Army will:

  • End development of the Army’s new manned reconnaissance helicopter, the Future Attack and Reconnaissance Aircraft (FARA), at the conclusion of FY24 prototyping activities.
  • End production of the UH-60V version of the Blackhawk, which extends service life of existing airframes by 10 years, after FY24 due to significant cost growth.
  • Delay entering production of the Improved Turbine Engine (ITEP) to ensure adequate time to integrate it with AH-64 and UH-60 platforms.
  • Phase out operations and sustainment of the legacy Shadow and Raven unmanned aircraft systems.

These decisions free up resources to make critical new investments in Army aviation. Going forward, the Army will:

  • Commit to a new multi-year contract to procure the UH-60M Blackhawk helicopter – a new airframe with a 20+ year service life – and invest in upgrades for the Blackhawk.
  • End uncertainty over the future of the CH-47F Block II Chinook by formally entering it into production, with a path to full rate production in the future.
  • Continue the Future Long Range Assault Aircraft (FLRAA) program as planned, ensuring the Army remains on a path to field the first operational unit in FY30.
  • Increase investments in research and development to expand and accelerate the Army’s unmanned aerial reconnaissance capability including future tactical unmanned aerial systems and launched effects.

In an op-ed  published by Breaking Defense, retired Army Maj. Gen. John Ferrari estimated that the Army has spent close to $2.4 billion on the development of the FARA helicopter. This included the funding of research, development and prototyping efforts by Sikorsky and Bell, which were the two manufacturers selected by the Army for the second phase of the FARA program in March 2020.

In reviewing the FARA program in light of new technological developments, battlefield developments and current budget projections, Army leaders assessed that the increased capabilities it offered could be more affordably and effectively achieved by relying on a mix of enduring, unmanned, and space-based assets.

Moreover, without reprioritizing funds in its constrained aviation portfolio, the Army faced the unacceptable risk of decline and closure of production and sustainment lines for the Chinook and Blackhawk fleets. The Army’s new plan will renew and extend production of both aircraft, while also sustaining the experienced workforce and vendor base that underpin the Army’s aviation capabilities.