Airbus wants to join forces with Leonardo to deal with next-generation US helicopters

Airbus wants to join forces with Leonardo to deal with next-generation US helicopters

US Army programs FARA and FLRAA, helicopter revolution

The Futur vertical lift program of the US Army one of the components of the supe BIG-6 program will undoubtedly change profoundly the technological characteristics of helicopters in the coming decades and, above all, the expected performance, both in terms of speed, reach and lifting capacity. At the moment, FVL consists of the Futur Long Range Assault Aircraft Program, or FLRAA, intended to replace the H-60 ​​Black Hawks, as well as the Future Attack and Reconnaissance Aircraft program, or FARA, to recapitalize the strike component and recognition that the United States Army lost with the withdrawal of the OH-58 Kiowa. 

And whether it’s the Bell V-280 Valor or Sikorsky SB1 Defiant for FLRAA, like the Sikorsky Raider-X and the Bell xnumx invictus (to a lesser extent) for FARA, these aircraft offer new technological approaches that offer capabilities hitherto inaccessible to rotary wings. . It is precisely to counteract the technological leap in gestation across the Atlantic, thanks in particular to the $ 5 billion in R&D that feed the FARA and FLRAA programs, and in particular to the development and testing of the 4 demonstrators, that Jerome Combe , who heads the strategy and industrial policy of Airbus Helicopters, proposed to the Italian Leonardo, whose helicopter component brings together the Italian subsidiary Agusta and the British Westland, to join together to jointly develop technologies,

To do this, it relies on the two complementary technologies developed by the two helicopters as part of the European Clean Sky program, namely the Airbus Helicopter Racer and the Leonardo AW609, both capable of responding to the technological challenges and capacity proposed by Sikorsky and Bell. . The Racer, which we have already presented, is based on propellers that allow to increase its horizontal speed and replace the antitorque rotor, particularly at low speed, and this by taking advantage of the power of the main rotor, like traditional antitorque rotors. This technology offers high performance, but above all a simplified maintenance. The AW609, meanwhile, was developed with the help of American Bell, a traditional partner of the Italian Agusta, and uses tilt-rotor technology, such as the V-280 from the FLRAA program.

Additionally, as the V280 Valor demonstrated during testing across the Atlantic, this technology is now mature and perfectly mastered by Bell, allowing its device to take a comfortable lead in the test program against its competitor, the SB1 Defiant from Sikorsky. In fact, the two European groups have the technological capabilities to face the American challenge, especially if they act in concert as was the case with the NH90 program. Despite a difficult start, especially in terms of availability and maintenance, the European medium helicopter has since demonstrated its great qualities. Additionally, Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom, France and Greece have joined forces as part of NATO’s Next Generation Rotorcraft Capabilities program.

The Italian government has even specified that it intends to use part of the stimulus credits of the European Union to fight against the economic effects of the Covid crisis, to participate in this program. It is true that Italy, like Great Britain, are privileged partners of the American defense industry, actively participating in the F35 program, and neither London nor Rome have given objective signals to favor European offers on these questions. Although, according to Airbus, the technology used in the Racer would allow it to propel a helicopter of up to 16 tons, Germany has ended transatlantic negotiations for the replacement of its heavy CH-53 Super Stallion helicopters, and that Paris, Berlin and Madrid are already jointly developing the SCAF program and Eurodrone.

The Europeans will still have to have the will and determination not to give in to the sirens of Washington. In any case, whether they act together or in a dispersed order, the Europeans will have to quickly make the necessary compensations in order not to lose the market shares available to Airbus Helicopters and Leonardo in the world in the field of civil and military helicopters. . The goal of developing a next-generation medium helicopter under NATO by 2035 is already ambitious today. It would be impossible for Europeans to get lost in procrastination, an area in which they have unfortunately demonstrated excellent natural abilities. 

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