The Sikorsky UH-60M program gets a significant boost in the FY 2020 budget request. (Photo: Lockheed Martin)

The Pentagon FY 2020 budget request includes about $790 million for Future Vertical Lift (FVL) research and development. That includes about $94 million for FVL technology under basic research and $152 million for FVL advanced technology.

The Army’s significant budget request for FVL may allay the fears of some in industry about sustaining the Joint Multirole Technology Demonstration (JMR-TD) program in which the Bell [TXT] V-280 Valor is competing against the Boeing [BA]-Sikorsky  built SB-1 Defiant. JMR-TD is scheduled to end this year. Industry and DoD have funded the demonstrator aircraft at a 2-to-one ratio, and there has been some concern among industry observers about whether proposed Army funding levels in FY 2020 will be sufficient to move the program forward.

The DoD budget also includes nearly $1.7 billion for 73 U.S. Army UH-60M Black Hawk helicopters by Sikorsky, as well as 25 cockpit kits to upgrade UH-60Ls to UH-60Vs–in all, a $225 million increase from the FY 2019 enacted level for the UH-60 program. The budget proposal also includes nearly $358 million for nine Army MH-47Gs by Boeing–$73 million more than the FY 2019 funded level for the Chinook program, which includes CH-47F transports and the MH-47G special operations rotor craft.

The proposed increase for the latter includes $25 million in the Overseas Contingency Operations fund to replace one MH-47G lost in combat. OCO funds are not subject to budget caps.

The Pentagon said that the CH-47F is expected to remain the Army’s heavy lift helicopter until the late 2030s and that the MH-47G version is a must to extend the service life of the MH-47 fleet. The Chinook Improved Cargo Helicopter program for the CH-47F and MH-47G includes an upgraded digital cockpit and modifications to the airframe to reduce vibration.

The Army budget request also includes $1 billion for 48 AH-64E Apache attack helicopters by Boeing–$463 million less and 18 airframes fewer than funded in FY 2019.

In addition to the Army helicopter program increases in FY 2020 for the UH-60M and MH-47G, the Pentagon proposes $1.5 billion to buy six U.S. Marine Corps’ CH-53K King Stallions in the low-rate initial production phase–a $34 million increase over the funded FY 2019 level, yet three fewer than initially planned.

Multiple design deficiencies found during post-delivery testing of the CH-53K are to delay operational testing and entry to service with the Marine Corps until at least 2021, according to the recent U.S. Defense Department Director of Operational Test and Evaluation’s annual report.

A planned initial operational capability (IOC) declaration in December 2019 “will be delayed” and the CH-53K program office is “working a major schedule revision” to address a list of structural problems found during system development and demonstration, according to the DOT&E report. Yet, Sikorsky has said that it is aligned on a program plan with Naval Air Systems Command and the Marine Corps to support the first CH-53K deployment in 2023-2024 and that a majority of technical issues have been resolved.

In FY 2020, the Navy also plans to begin procurement of its replacement for the TH-57 Sea Ranger training helicopters. The service’s budget request includes $261 million for the first 32 helicopters–24 for the Navy and eight for the Marine Corps.

For the VH-92A presidential helicopter by Sikorsky, the Navy requests about $846 million for low-rate initial production of six aircraft, and the service also requests $994 million for 10 MV-22 tiltrotors by Bell-Boeing.

The DoD FY 2020 budget request also includes $1.1 billion for 12 U.S. Air Force HH-60W Combat Rescue Helicopters by Sikorsky–$25 million above the FY 2019 funding level.

The company said last month that it has fully assembled the first two HH-60Ws Combat Rescue Helicopters and is preparing them for maiden flights before mid-year at the company’s site in West Palm Beach, Florida.

The HH-60W is to replace the Air Force’s aging HH-60G Pave Hawks currently performing the combat search-and-rescue mission.

“It looks like helicopters are making out okay in the FY 2020 budget request,” said Ray Jaworowski, a senior analyst with Forecast International.  “The FY 2020 request for most rotor craft procurement programs is roughly where the services, a year ago, had projected that they would be. One notable exception is the Army’s UH-60M Black Hawk, which is seeing a significant increase over what the service had been projecting for the upcoming fiscal year.”