The Marine Corps is closely following the Army’s Future Vertical Lift (FVL) programs to inform its own Attack Utility Replacement Aircraft (AURA) effort, which will likely replace its AH-1Z and UH-1Y helicopters.

Lt. Gen. Mark Wise, the deputy commandant for aviation, told reporters Tuesday that, while the Marine Corps is a few years away on making programmatic decisions for AURA, officials are exploring the potential compatibility with platforms vying for the Army’s FVL lines of effort.

AH-1Z Viper Attack Helicopter.
(Photo: Bell Helicopter Textron)

“We’re really taking a good comprehensive look at how we’re going to get to the future attack helicopter. And [FVL] is a really good approach that we’re very impressed with so far,” Wise said following a discussion at the virtual Modern Day Marine conference. 

In September 2019, Naval Air Systems Command released a Request For Information (RFI) for AURA, which indicated that the Marine Corps could award contracts through 2023 to advance concept designs (Defense Daily, Sept. 17 2019). 

The RFI detailed plans to find a new platform capable of reaching extended ranges and speed to keep up with its V-22 tiltrotor aircraft, built by Bell. 

The Marine Corps does not have a specific date when an RFP could be released to move AURA forward, according to Wise, while he reiterated that discussions on the program are beyond the “nascent stages” of development.

“So we have a little bit of time on this. We’re definitely not going slow. We’re certainly pressurizing the look for what’s next right now, and spending a lot of time doing it,” Wise told reporters. “We’re still looking at [the FVL] capabilities that have evolved from all the vendors right now. I’m not sure that any of us has a specific date on when that selection might take place.”

Wise noted the Marine Corps is in the process now of completing fielding for the AH-1Z Viper and UH-1Y helicopters.

The Army’s FVL modernization effort includes the Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft (FARA), which is aimed at finding a future “knife fighter” helicopter to fill the gap left by retiring the OH-58D Kiowa Warrior, and the Future Long Range Assault Aircraft (FLRAA), which will replace UH-60 Black Hawk Helicopters.

Sikorsky’s [LMT] Raider X and Bell’s [TXT] 360 Invictus are currently in the FARA competitive prototyping phase, while Sikorsky and Boeing’s [BA] SB-1 Defiant and Bell’s V-280 Valor are going through the FLRAA Competitive Demo & Risk Reduction phase. 

Wise said AURA “falls squarely within that Future Vertical Lift realm,” with Marine Corps officials assessing opportunities to leverage as much commonality as possible between platforms.

“We’re not doing this solely as a Marine Corps. We’re looking at the Naval tie-in. We’re looking at the Army tie-in as well. It’s not so much that the platforms are going to be identical, because they’re not,” Wise told reporters. 

When the RFI was released last year, a Bell official told Defense Daily the company could look to offer the V-280 as the program’s requirements come together. 

“We see AURA maybe as a potential path. So you have JMR-TD with the V-280 and that as a competitor for the [Army’s] Future Long Range Assault Aircraft, but that same aircraft could potentially also be used to move over and meet the AURA aircraft as well,” Todd Worden, Bell’s senior manager for advanced vertical lift systems, said at the 2019 Modern Day Marine. “For a Marine Corps platform, we can look at an aircraft that is probably going to require a blade fold/wing stow like the V-22. It’ll probably need that type of capability.”