A new electronically powered aircraft that can rapidly transport logistics and personnel across battlefields or through disaster zones will benefit the Air Force across a wide range of capability needs, service officials said April 27.
As the service virtually kicked off its new Agility Prime program to field such a platform, its leaders emphasized how crucial a commercially developed electronic vertical-takeoff-and-landing (eVTOL) platform would be for future missions.
Air Mobility Command’s mission is expanding, and its forces need to ensure it can continue to perform its airlift, air refueling, aeromedical evacuation and global air mobility support missions through increasingly contested environments, said AMC Commander Gen. Maryanne Miller during the Monday teleconference.
“Access and freedom of maneuver is and will continue to be a key challenge … in airspace and in cyber space,” she said.
The Agility Prime concept will help AMC provide distributed logistics to the warfighter in a more flexible, affordable and scalable way, she noted. Miller gave the example of AMC’s contingency response groups, who reopen airfields after a disaster has occurred.
“Can you imagine what these teams could do with the ability to self-deploy and [that are] no longer relying on the logistics transportation network?” she said. “Can you imagine a host of vehicles that any airman can operate to do airfield assessments, security patrols and surveillance, tactical airborne [command and control] and just so much more?”
“Agility Prime will be a gamechanger for the warfighter,” Miller continued.
The Air Force’s top futurists who are studying and evaluating what the next warfighters will require have consistently seen the usefulness of vertical takeoff and landing technologies, said Air Force Brig. Gen. S. Clinton Hinote, director of the Air Force Warfighting Integration Capability (AFWIC) office at the Pentagon. AFWIC is a service effort to develop new multi-domain strategies and build plans for the future by transcending the Air Force’s traditionally siloed structure for developing new capabilities.
Hinote said the service wants to take advantage of the commercial sector’s ability to scale production for new systems, and field new automated technologies that could make the systems less specialized, and make flying an aircraft “accessible to a much wider range of people.”
Logistics and sustainment are a key capability that could be improved by platforms that come out of Agility Prime, officials said Monday. “We see a lot of use cases that have to do with the transport of small packages [in the field], or small groups of people,” Hinote said. That could apply to disaster relief needs, or logistics in combat zones for equipment deliveries or search and rescue missions, he noted.
The technologies sought through Agility Prime would be “tailor-made” to ensure injured troops receive medical aid in a timely manner, he added. It could also help with base defense, and enable more rapid reaction forces to deploy over a large base more quickly.
Another potential application for Agility Prime would be to help shorten commutes for missileers, helping those operators stationed in northern states to work in a fast and safe way, Hinote said.
A solicitation for Agility Prime released Feb. 25 shared the service’s vision for atypical development program, where commercial EVTOL developers race to get their systems certified for airworthiness and have access to Air Force test ranges, as well as their safety and airworthiness certifications, to do so.
The solicitation’s minimal requirements included an emphasis on eVTOL and urban/advanced air mobility aircraft that utilized electric or hybrid propulsion and could be optionally manned by an onboard or remote pilot or completely unmanned. The Air Force is also open to alternative technologies.
While helicopters will certainly continue to be used in the U.S. military, the Air Force is looking for “another, more widespread, widely applicable solution,” Hinote said. Traditional helicopters are generally loud, expensive to build, and require specialized training to fly. “We certainly would like a solution at a lower cost point for all the right reasons,” he added.
The Air Force is leading the Agility Prime effort, but the benefit will be spread across all services, officials noted. Program officers from the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air National Guard and Air Force Special Operations Command also participated in the Monday teleconference, which kicked off the weeklong virtual event.