Northrop Grumman [NOC] is offering a 20mm “Sky Viper” chain gun for the U.S. Army’s Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft (FARA).
The Army’s FVL program includes development of FARA, the Future Long Range Assault Aircraft (FLRAA) and the Future Tactical UAS, which all use the service’s Modular Open Systems Approach (MOSA) “digital backbone” to permit rapid upgrades.
“The Army is looking for a 20mm cannon to equip the Future Vertical Lift platform,” Quinn Canole, director of the guns operating unit, for Northrop Grumman Defense Systems told reporters on March 10 in advance of next week’s Association of the United States Army (AUSA) Global Next forum. “To support this, Northrop Grumman Armament Systems is developing a new, 20mm chain gun, which we have named the ‘Sky Viper,’ in partnership with the U.S. Army’s DEVCOM [Army Combat Capabilities Development Command] Armaments Center…This 20mm cannon is intended to provide superior performance when compared to other, legacy Gatling guns that are used in the market.”
General Dynamics [GD] is also competing for the FARA gun and is offering its XM915, a 20mm, three-barrel Gatling gun capable of firing up to 1,500 shots per minute while weighing under 115 pounds.
Northrop Grumman’s “Sky Viper” is based on the company’s M230 chain gun on the Boeing [BA] AH-64 Apache attack helicopter, but the “Sky Viper” uses new technologies to reduce weight and recoil to meet FARA requirements, Canole said.
“The benefit of using a chain gun technology over other weapons systems are primarily its proven reliability, its ease of maintainability, and its superior accuracy,” he said. The “Sky Viper” has completed initial tests with DEVCOM.
FARA is aimed at finding a future “knife fighter” helicopter to fill the gap left by retiring the OH-58D Kiowa Warrior, and FLRAA is to replace UH-60 Black Hawk Helicopters.
Sikorsky’s [LMT] Raider X and Bell’s [TXT] 360 Invictus are competing for FARA, while the Sikorsky/Boeing Defiant X is vying with Bell’s V-280 Valor for FLRAA.
Northrop Grumman is looking for a variety of opportunities with the FLRAA and FARA prime contractors.
“For all the right reasons, we are firewalled to the hilt in how we interact with these OEMs (original equipment manufacturers), or platform primes,” Brendan Kelly, the director of Future Vertical Lift for Northrop Grumman Mission Systems, said in response to a question on any Northrop Grumman discussions with the FVL prime contractors. “We have the benefit of having relationships with all of them, based on the [proposed Northrop Grumman FVL] content, and along the same lines that we’ve envisioned this optimization of mission systems content, we’re engaged with those OEMs, but I am not going to get into specifics, nor should I.”
Jim Conroy, vice president of emerging systems and strategic initiative for the navigation, targeting and survivability division of Northrop Grumman Mission Systems, said that the Army could reduce FVL costs and boost capability by leveraging Northrop Grumman MOSA and survivability systems in production.
“We are not demonstrating concepts in MOSA and survivability,” he said. “Rather, we are executing Army programs of record in these areas that are already MDO capable. This is critical because we are enabling the Army to leverage these mature systems to lower FVL’s overall risk.”
MOSA “is critical to the Army because, as these platforms are being developed, the threat environment is changing underneath us, ” he said. “Northrop Grumman is the only provider of a verifiable MOSA system flying on an Army platform [the Sikorsky UH-60V] right now.”
In addition, the Northrop Grumman Common Infrared Countermeasures System (CIRCM) for the Army’s rotorcraft will replace the Advanced Threat Infrared Countermeasures (ATIRCM) system designed by BAE Systems, which also competed for the Army’s CIRCM project but lost to Northrop Grumman in 2015.
CIRCM uses quantum cascade laser (QCL) technology to generate laser emission through the direct conversion of electricity into infrared radiation in contrast to legacy solid-state lasers that need several frequency conversion stages to generate emission in the IR, which leads to size, weight, power and reliability deficiencies. The military has used gas and solid state lasers since the 1960s.
CIRCM “is a program of record for the Army designed specifically for the Army,” Conroy said. In addition, Northrop Grumman sees an FVL opportunity for its AN/APR-39E(V)2 radar warning receiver, as the latter, an evolution of the AN/APR-39 used on the V-22 tiltrotor and other aircraft, is to counter advanced threats.
Bill Eledge, senior program manager of Northrop Grumman Defense Systems’ loitering munitions programs, said that the company is developing a unique air vehicle, Hero-ALE, with UVision USA–a wholly owned subsidiary of Israel’s UVision Air Limited–for FVL’s Air Launched Effects (ALE) program and that the vehicle will combine characteristics of UVision’s Hero-120 and Hero-400 loitering munitions. Hero-ALE is designed for FARA, FLRAA, the Apache, and the General Atomics MQ-1C Gray Eagle drone and to be fired from existing M-299 and M-310 launchers by The Marvin Group.
Northrop Grumman said that UVision USA “will be manufacturing all Hero products in the United States with the support of its U.S. supply chain partners.”