Flying Into the Future: Aviation Fleet Upgraded as Future Aircraft Are Developed
Army aviation has a well-documented legacy of supporting soldiers. Across the globe, soldiers rely on Army aviation to provide everything from protection and lethality, to reconnaissance and surveillance, to food and water.
Behind the aircraft and equipment employed by Army aircrews are the soldiers and civilians of Program Executive Office Aviation. The PEO Aviation team has played a key role in development and delivery of these combat-proven weapons systems, capabilities that have provided Army aviation overmatch against adversaries for decades.
As the Army transforms into a more lethal and capable force, the expertise of PEO Aviation’s acquisition professionals is even more critical. Working as members of the Army aviation enterprise, the PEO Aviation workforce focuses on ensuring appropriate targeted modernization of the Army’s enduring aircraft fleet while developing the future fleet.
Now and Later
PEO Aviation’s priority is the development of leap-ahead capabilities for the future force while ensuring existing systems have the capability and capacity to “fight tonight” in worldwide missions.
The Army has recognized that leap-ahead technology is necessary as improvements in speed, range, endurance, lethality and protection are vital for the future aviation force in a joint all-domain environment. The Future Vertical Lift Cross-Functional Team, charged with developing requirements and resourcing strategies to make this vision a reality, has defined a future ecosystem that includes manned and unmanned systems.
The combined effects of the Future Vertical Lift ecosystem will provide commanders with decisive aviation capabilities on the future battlefield. Program managers and engineers of PEO Aviation are teamed with members of the Future Vertical Lift Cross-Functional Team and together, the teams have made significant progress toward the four cross-functional team signature modernization efforts: Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft, Future Long-Range Assault Aircraft, Air Launched Effects and Future Tactical Unmanned Aircraft Systems.
The Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft remains the Army’s No. 1 aviation modernization priority and will provide increased range, speed, lethality, endurance and survivability to soldiers. It will replace the AH-64 Apache helicopter in reconnaissance squadrons and serve as an advanced scout aircraft. The Future Long-Range Assault Aircraft, another signature aviation modernization priority, will provide power projection from relative sanctuary through significantly improved range, mobility and speed over existing assault aircraft. Both programs are on schedule for fielding by 2030.
Air Launched Effects are a critical enabler of the Future Vertical Lift ecosystem. They are envisioned as small, optionally recoverable, air- or ground-launched loitering aircraft. Air Launched Effects will detect, identify, locate and report threats; represent a credible decoy; disrupt threat communications, targeting and acquisition systems; and deliver lethal and nonlethal effects. When fielded, Air Launched Effects will provide a difference-making capability for the Army.
The fourth cross-functional team modernization priority is Future Tactical Unmanned Aircraft Systems. This will replace Shadow in brigade combat teams and employ the combination of universal and scalable control interfaces with multirole air vehicles that optimize manned-unmanned teaming for air and ground maneuver units across all environments. The PEO and cross-functional team will continue to rapidly advance priority modernization efforts of the Future Vertical Lift ecosystem.
In addition to resourcing the Future Vertical Lift-sponsored capabilities for the future force, Army leadership continues to assess optimal allocation of resources to apply to the enduring fleet. The Army operates over 4,000 piloted aircraft around the world, most of which are helicopters. The majority of the rotary-wing aircraft are accounted for in three large fleets of UH-60 Black Hawks, AH-64 Apaches and CH-47 Chinooks.
In addition to piloted aircraft, the Army has more than 17,000 unmanned aircraft platforms that perform reconnaissance, surveillance and target-acquisition missions in Army formations. This combined set of piloted and unmanned aircraft forms the enduring fleet capability that supports operations around the world.
Apaches and Black Hawks remain in production, and targeted modernization is planned for the enduring fleets to ensure continued safe and effective operation while the future fleet is designed and built. Program managers and engineers are bringing forward targeted modernization efforts for the enduring fleet that benefit systems across the PEO and Army. Success will break the old paradigm of platform-unique investments and enable faster and less expensive incorporation of capability improvements, including communications, Mission Command systems and survivability solutions.
Equally important, integrating these capabilities into the enduring fleet will reduce risk as the future fleet is developed and fielded. Key enablers are digital tools and processes that unlock the skill and professionalism of the workforce. The PEO is implementing digital engineering and robust model-based system engineering into all its processes, often called the “digital thread.” Moving the PEO from industrial-age processes and approaches into the digital age is a foundational element in its continuous quest for improvement.
One example of enduring fleet targeted modernization that leverages digital design tools and provides benefits across multiple systems is the Improved Turbine Engine Program. The engine, designated the T901, is a 3,000-shaft horsepower engine under development as a replacement for the current T700 engine and will provide power for Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft, Apaches and Black Hawks.
The engine delivers increased lift, range and reduced fuel consumption with a modular design enabling field-level repair with lower operating and sustainment costs.
Another example of new processes being pursued for cross-platform application is using Modular Open Systems Approach concepts in system designs. These concepts will be integral to future modernization efforts as modular designs, defined interfaces and standardized processes and governance are moved to ensure compliance.
The PEO has established an Architecture Collaboration Working Group that includes government and industry participants. The working group is charged with implementing and maintaining a road map to guide enduring and future systems into a government-controlled open architecture and away from proprietary, stovepiped architectures.
In order to realize the full value of the Modular Open Systems Approach, PEO Aviation is developing the Aviation Mission Common Server. The server will be the first open computing environment mission processor spanning the enduring fleet. The server will host common software and application program interfaces providing a seamless link between common mission systems capabilities and platform-unique, proprietary data structures.
It will fill a previously unfilled gap for Army platforms—a government-owned processing capability that bridges between government and industry architectures to allow rapid integration of common capabilities at reduced costs.
The Aviation Mission Common Server requirements will feature a cybersecure, open system architecture for the enduring fleet with risk reduction and growth for the future fleet.
Significant work remains to ensure the readiness of Army aviation to fight tonight while concurrently developing aviation capabilities necessary to fight and win against future adversaries. While these efforts are challenging, soldiers and civilians of PEO Aviation are ready for the task and proud to be part of this transformative endeavor.
Working with its partners across the aviation enterprise, PEO Aviation remains dedicated to the design, development and delivery of the world’s preeminent aviation combat systems.