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Years ago, the Army vision for its fleet of Future Vertical Lift helicopters and aircraft was intended to engineer platforms with a specific mind of operating in a dangerous, future threat environment in the 2030s and not merely focus on the near term when it comes to the development of paradigm-changing new aircraft.
As part of this, the Army vision for its future rotorcraft is grounded in extended sustainability, meaning the aircraft will need to be both maintained and upgraded for decades moving into the future.
Army’s Future Long Range Assault Aircraft Competition | V-280 Valor
Bell engineers of the V-280 Valor, a tiltrotor aircraft now submitted as an offering in the Army’s Future Long Range Assault Aircraft competition, sought to anticipate and align with the Army vision for long-term reliability and sustainability of its platform. Bell’s strategy seeks to align with the Army vision through its use of Modular Open Systems Architecture (MOSA), an approach intended to ensure long-term upgradeability and sustainability through the use of common technical standards and IP protocol and specific interfaces intended to improve interoperability.
MOSA is an extremely critical key because the aircraft has for years been specifically designed for future decades into the 2030s and well beyond, in part by introducing paradigm-changing speed, range, agility, weapons, sensors and computing. All of these components of next-generation technologies need to not only achieve breakthrough performance parameters, such as 300-mph speeds more than twice the speed of a Black Hawk and an ability to fly twice as far without refueling, but also be sustained and upgraded for decades into the future.
More specifically, survivability and sustainability enhancements will be critical in coming years as adversaries acquire more range, precision, jamming capability and cyber war technologies in coming years. MOSA is specifically intended to keep pace with these emerging concerns, if not stay entirely in front of them to enable long-term safety for the aircraft and its crew.
“MOSA gets after those things that were most frequently changing and being able to upgrade at what I call the speed of relevance. If the enemy figures out a new way to push something at you to take the aircraft down, you need to rapidly be able to counter that with survivability gear,” said Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Schloesser, Executive Vice President, Strategic Pursuits at Bell’s Advanced Vertical Lift Center. During his 34-year military career, Schlosser commanded the Army’s well-known 101st Airborne Division.
By using MOSA, Bell engineers can upgrade the V-280s electronics, computing, command and control and Aircraft Survivability Equipment (ASE) to ensure reliability, performance and an ability to counter advanced enemy Surface-to-Air Missiles at what developers call the “speed of relevance,” meaning improvements to the platform will not be constrained by proprietary vendor technologies or need “bolt on” fixes requiring reconfigured hardware.
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“Whether it's radio survivability gear, ASE (aircraft survivability equipment), as the Army calls it, you'll be able to rapidly move forward with a new design. And every time you do that, you're doing it in a competitive space, or not trying to bolt on a system to address a problem,” Schloesser said..
With MOSA, new hardware configurations don’t need to be built from scratch and somehow integrated with an existing high-tech system. Common standards applications, with an emphasis on ensuring connectivity and transport layers are “hardened,” not only massively speeds up the time frame for crucial upgrades but also ensures sustained interoperability and sustained protections.
As a way of learning how to ensure long-term reliability for its V-280 Valor, a quality which of course vastly improves survivability by preventing in-flight malfunctions or some kind of mission failure in combat, Bell engineers completely “took apart” the aircraft. This approach helped Bell solidify its MOSA strategy.
“When we took apart the aircraft which is what we did starting in March, what we found was that the gearboxes were normal. There was not excessive wear and tear. In other words, our approach to building the gearboxes as well as all the other aircraft components were sound, we'd actually built the extra prop rotor gearboxes, extra blades, we never had to use any of those on that risk,” Schloesser said.
The technological premise for building the aircraft, Bell developers say, pertains to a specific Modular Open Systems Architecture engineering approach. Essentially, this approach ensures common IP protocol, interfaces and common data standards intended to enable rapid, low-risk integration of upgrades and sustainment enhancements. These often take the form of software upgrades or adjustments to electronics, mission systems and command and control. The pace of modernization, particularly with computer processing, AI-enabled systems and sensors, is so accelerated that Bell engineers made a concentrated effort to engineer the new V-280 with the technical infrastructure sufficient to ensure long-term upgradability and reliability. These are things which not only ensure successful modernization but also greatly improve the survivability of the aircraft as its systems become increasingly reliable.
Bell developers have designed the V-280 for sustainability, in part by drawing upon its decades long expertise engineering tiltrotor aircraft such as the Osprey. However, the V-280 is an entirely “clean sheet’ design which has been airborne for several years, amassing 215 risk reducing flight hours. Therefore, there are two key interwoven variables here, as yes Bell does have decades long expertise building titltorors as something they have been calling upon to inform V-280 development, however the V-280 is built as an entirely new, paradigm-changing set of technologies and aircraft capabilities.
“Tiltrotor is a proven, fielded capability. Our next-generation tiltrotor builds upon 700,000 flight hours of experience and combat operations. We’re not experimenting with the unknown, Schloesser added.
For example, Bell developers have increased V-280 reliability and sustainment potential by in part identifying and fixing or avoiding challenges or problems associated with the Osprey.
“We eliminated problems at the source and redesigned components to increase core reliability and ease of manufacturing. More ‘time-on-wing’ yields decreased maintenance actions,” Schloesser said.
Kris Osborn is the President of Warrior Maven - Center for Military Modernization and the Defense Editor for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Masters Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.