U.S. Special Operations Command’s (SOCOM) decision on a path forward for replacing its H-6 Little Bird helicopters will be informed by whether the Army goes with a platform for its Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft (FARA) that is able to carry troops, a lead official said Wednesday. 

“One of [the offerings] can carry troops and one of them can’t, so based on the downselect [decision] it gives us options in terms of where we go forward with this platform. Whether we adopt the Future Vertical Lift aircraft, we will continue to maintain or sustain the Little Bird in some configuration,” Geoffrey Downer, SOCOM’s program executive officer for rotary wing programs, said during National Defense Industrial Association’s virtual Special Operations Forces Industry Conference.

MH-6 Little Bird

Downer has noted previously that of the two offerings the Army is considering for FARA, Sikorsky’s [LMT] Raider X is designed to carry troops while Bell’s [TXT] 360 Invictus is not.

Both aircraft are in the competitive prototyping phase for FARA, with first flight tests slated to take place in the first quarter of FY ‘23 before selecting one platform for production later that year. 

“We want to be able to carry four passengers for a threshold and six passengers for an objective [requirement]. We want to be able to transport these on a C-17 or a C-130. And we want aerial refueling capability like we have with our larger aircraft,” Downer said, noting SOCOM has communicated the Special Operations Forces-specific requirements for a potential Little Bird replacement.

Downer said he anticipates SOCOM will retain at least a portion of its Little Bird light attack fleet into the future, and said he could see the command operating a mixed fleet with FARA  depending on which platform the Army selects and how many it is able to receive from the service.