Last week, Bell unveiled its 360 Invictus high-speed armed scout helicopter competitor for the Army's Future Armed Reconnaissance Aircraft (FARA) tender, and now Sikorsky is firing back, with his long-awaited contestant, "Raider X." The aircraft is based directly on its S-97 Raider demonstrator, which utilizes the company's X2 composite helicopter technology to achieve very high speed and maneuverability for a rotor craft. The company's larger SB> 1 Defiant, which participates in the Joint Multi-Role (JMR) technology demonstration program now and is likely to try to capture the Future Vertical Lift-Medium contract in the future, also uses this unique configuration. Sikorsky's X2 technology has been developed and financed internally for over a decade. You can read all about it and S-97 in this exclusive War Zone interview with the company's X2 team.
Bell is not Sikorsky's only competitor for the FARA contract, which is intended to fill the void left by the prematurely retired OH-58D Kiowa Warrior and also replace a number of AH-64 Apaches, in the decade to come. The company, which is now a subsidiary of Lockheed Martin, also faces Boeing, AVX and L3, and a powerful consortium that includes Karem, Northrop Grumman and Raytheon. Boeing and the latter team have yet to showcase their FARA concepts.
Sikorsky states that their Raider X is the leader in "the service's revolutionary approach to the rapid development and delivery of game-changing technology and warfighter capabilities, equipped for the most demanding and contentious environments. RAIDER X enables the range, protection and mortality required to remain victorious in future conflicts. "
The company continues to highlight the unique features of Raider X:
· Exceptional Performance : The rigid rotor X2 provides increased performance; highly responsive maneuverability, improved low speed hover, off-axis hooves, and level acceleration and braking. These features make us unbeatable at X.
· Agile, Digital Design : Top modern design and production are already in use on other Lockheed Martin and Sikorsky production programs such as CH-53K, CH-148 and F- 35, and will enable the Army to not only lower acquisition costs, but enable rapid, affordable upgrades to face the emerging threat.
· Adaptability : Modern Open System Architecture (MOSA) -based avionics and mission systems, offering plug-and-play options for computing, sensors, survivability and weapons, benefiting from mortality and survivability, operational assignment adjustment and competitive procurement.
· Sustainability / Maintenance: Designed to reduce aircraft operating costs by using new technologies to shift from routine maintenance and inspections to self-monitoring and condition-based maintenance, which will increase aircraft availability, reduce sustainability footprint ahead and enable flexible maintenance periods for maintenance.
· Growth / Mission Flexibility : Focused on the future and ever-evolving threat capabilities, X2 compound coaxial technology provides unmatched potential and growth margin increased speed, combat radius and payload. This potential and the growth margin further enable operational mission flexibility that includes a wider range of aircraft configurations and loads to meet specific mission requirements.
Some other features of X-2 technology in the raider were provided by the company as such:
With RAIDER X, Sikorsky introduces the latest design in its X2 aircraft family. To date, X2 aircraft have achieved / demonstrated:
- Speeds over 250 knots
- High altitude operations above 9000 feet
- Low-speed and high-speed maneuver envelopes for 60+ degree bank angle
- ADS-33B (Aeronautical Design Standard) Level 1 Multiple Pilot Handling Features
- Flight Controls Optimization and Vibration Limitation
Sikorsky Experimental Test Pilot Bill Fell, who has taken Raider on the majority of his test flights, also said the following about X2 technology:
“The power of X2 changes in the game. It combines the best elements of low-speed helicopter performance with the cruise performance of an aircraft … Each flight we take in our S-97 RAIDER today reduces the risk and optimizes our FARA prototype, RAIDER X. "
The concept image of Raider X is very similar S-97, but with a number of significant improvements. It seems that that some unobservable considerations may have been driving factors for the design. The rendering shows a helicopter free of radar-reflecting components attached to the flight frame, such as sensors, pylons, antennas or weapons. In fact, it looks like the 20mm cannon is hidden when not in use. The rotor heads are also angled and have a v-shaped inlet design that feeds a deeply buried gas turbine engine.
The exhaust appears to be buried inside the tail boom, and it can even use a similar cooling system found on the company's long-abandoned RAH-66 Comanche. The protruding contour plate on the tail will point to this feature. At Comanche, the engine's hot exhaust was mixed with cool air and vented through this area.
In addition, the edges of the fuselage appear to have cooled, like Comanche. In fact, the Chinese line is quite similar, albeit less extreme. The airframe also appears to be designed with continuously changing radiused surfaces.
We must emphasize that these may also be features that are largely intended to make the flight frame as efficient and helicopter as fast as possible, and they may appear to share some basic elements with little observable design. We have reached Sikorsky to clarify this.
Also remember that varying degrees of low observability and significantly reducing aircraft radar cuts and infrared signatures, even if they do not go as far as Comanche, would still be a great gain in terms of survivability. This is especially true considering that this machine will also have speed, new situational awareness-enhancing sensors and advanced defensive countermeasures on its part when it comes to surviving on a modern battlefield.
Raider X, with its coaxial composition configuration, will certainly be a top kinetic practitioner of the FARA participants, but although Sikorsky really emphasizes that their X2 technology is low risk, this concept is very absolutely subjective . It is true that the company has spent over a decade developing the technology, but it has never been put into production and there is significantly higher risk than what Bell offers, which is really a conventional helicopter. Given its complexity, the Raider X can also come with a significantly higher price tag, though we really can't say it definitely at this point. Is it worth again to persuade the FARA mission to a reasonable alternative with lower performance?
In a new era of Advanced Integrated Air Defense Systems (IADS) networks and skilled short-distance aviation systems, it is already doubtful that any traditional helicopter can persist over highly contested territory and survive reliably to do it again and again. Reach is also a problem. In an age of anti-access, strategic denial, will basic helicopter units of 150 kilometers from an objective area even be realistic in some way?
We will talk more deeply about these issues in the near future, but with them in mind, range, speed and especially survivability should really be placed above anything else if the FARA concept is even worth billions in all . Otherwise, it seems like something of a wasteful tribute to the days or rotating wing wars that already seem to have passed us by.
Raider X could very well deliver in speed, range and even in the survival department if it is truly stealthy in nature and has the latest defensive aids, sensors and weapons. If not, it will be a composite helicopter with a certain development risk that can come in at a significantly higher price than some of its competitors. But once again, even if something is cheaper, is it really worth doing at all if it is not survivable or even employable in a future higher-end conflict?
We have to wait to answer these questions as FARA goes forward, but for now we finally know exactly what Siksorsky's offer will look like, and it is quite impressive.
UPDATE: 04:45 PST –
Sikorsky posted a promotional video of Raider X: