ABU DHABI – Because of past and ongoing operations in U.S. Central Command, many countries in the region have seen first-hand what the V-22 is capable of in combat and are actively seeking to acquire the aircraft, according to an industry official.

“The Marine Corps and Air Force Special Operations community has proven the capability of that platform, so I think a lot of people around the globe recognize the speed and range that tiltrotor provides you,” Steve Mathias, director of global business development for advanced tiltrotor systems at Textron‘s [TXT] Bell Helicopter business, told Defense Daily at the International Defense Expo.

Bell was on hand at the huge Middle East defense trade show with both its current – V-22 Osprey – and future – V-280 Valor – on display for countries that are well suited for tiltrotor capabilities, though none currently have requirements for the aircraft.

U.S. Marines with India Company, 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force—Crisis Response—Central Command, conduct fast rope training from an MV-22 Osprey while deployed to Southwest Asia, Sept. 16, 2015.
U.S. Marines with India Company, 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force—Crisis Response—Central Command, conduct fast rope training from an MV-22 Osprey while deployed to Southwest Asia, Sept. 16, 2015.

Bell and Boeing [BA] are constantly looking at ways to enhance the V-22’s capabilities and are working to satisfy the Marine Corps desire to arm it. Lt. Gen. Jon Davis, deputy commandant for aviation for the Marines, recently announced trials for a new nose-mounted sensor ball that will provide targeting for an array of new weapons.

Tower trials for tests of various sensor balls are scheduled for the spring.

Bell and Boeing jointly develop and produce the V-22.

Future Vertical Lift

Bell’s entry into the Joint Multi-Role Tech Demonstrator (JMR-TD) program, the V-280 Valor, is 95 percent complete and on track to fly in the fall, Mathias said.  

“You’ll see that stay put through summertime probably because we won’t add the blades [in order to] get some other tests done,” Mathias said.

The prototype V-280 is currently in a ground-test rig undergoing vibration and stress testing before the engines are fired up for the first time. That testing will continue for another month or so, he said.

No engine runs have been performed, though they have been turned to make sure the individual components were installed correctly and in working order, Mathias said. Engine runs will begin in spring if all goes as planned with vibration testing.

Bell’s informal competition in JMR-TD and FVL is Sikorsky’s SB-1 Defiant it is building in cooperation with Boeing. That aircraft combines dual rigid coaxial main rotors with a tail rotor for propulsion. It also is nearing completion and should fly in the fall. Sikorsky is part of Lockheed Martin [LMT].

“The beautiful thing about the Joint Multi-Role Tech Demonstration, from my perspective, is it’s not really a competition,” he said. “The U.S. government, with the Army as lead, has asked two companies to build an aircraft to prove whether the technology is there to leap ahead.”

“From a Bell perspective, we are absolutely proving that the technology is there to leap ahead,” he added.

Once the two prototypes are built, each company will demonstrate its design’s capabilities to the Army, which is then expected to pursue a larger version of one or the other as a Future Vertical Lift (FVL) family of platforms that eventually will replace most legacy helicopters. FVL is widely referred to as the future in Army aviation circles but is not yet a program of record with dependable funding.

With the Trump administration’s focus on current operations and building the military’s size at the expense of new-start development programs, FVL’s future funding could already be at risk. Mathias said the speed, range and maneuverability FVL is designed to deliver is necessary for the U.S. military to prevail against evolving threats. Hopefully, the Army and Congress will recognize that fact and fund one or both platforms, he said.

“I think it’s ours – industry’s – to lose,” he said. “We could prove that the technology is there. Our servicemen and women need that capability.”

Both companies have said their designs incorporate technologies that through JMR-TD will present relatively low risk going into FVL and eventual production. V-280 will be immediately ready for engineering and manufacturing development (EMD), Mathias said. The Army’s swiftest timeline puts FVL production in the 2025-2030 timeframe. Mathias said that enough risk reduction will have been done when the Army reaches a milestone B decision to start engineering and manufacturing (EMD) that it can produce fieldable aircraft five years ahead of that timeline, given no change in requirements.

“We believe we could deliver this five years sooner than what the U.S. government current timeline is,” Mathias said. “We believe we could go straight into EMD…assuming the requirement hasn’t changed.”

For one, the company moved to a straight wing for the V-280 instead of a swept wing like the V-22 has. That allowed for a 50 percent reduction in time and cost for wing construction, Mathias said.