Commentary: Army researchers seek future aviation gains

Maj. Gen. John F. Wharton commands the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland.

Maj. Gen. John F. Wharton commands the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland.

Aviation is a foundational capability the Army brings to the joint force to prevent conflict, shape security environments and dominate the battlefield. As the Army rebalances toward the Pacific, faces unpredictable adversaries in the Middle East and supports aid to Ebola victims in Africa, we see that it would be difficult for the Army to realize its goal of a regionally aligned and globally responsive force without a robust aviation force. Aviation is key to our ability to accomplish a wide range of missions in these complex environments, as well as being a cornerstone of Army lethality.

The Army has an amazing history with aviation. Aviation platforms have remained in service for 40 to 60 years. The pace of change is accelerating, however, and technology formerly reserved to major powers is spreading.

Future challenges such as operating in megacities or against subterranean objectives makes the battlefield agility and lethality afforded by Army aviation all the more important.

In response to these challenges, the U.S. Army is leading Department of Defense rotorcraft development efforts. Future Vertical Lift, known as FVL, is an initiative to develop the next generation of vertical lift aircraft for the Joint Warfighter Program.

Our goal is to improve aircraft performance and survivability, and significantly reduce operating costs. This will help the aircraft fly farther and faster, carry heavier payloads, team with unmanned systems and perform optionally piloted missions. We will also ensure our aviation capabilities meet the Army Materiel Command goal of sustainable readiness by making them easier and less expensive to sustain, which will increase their mission availability and the resources we have to develop future capabilities.

The command manages the Joint Multi-Role Technology Demonstrator, known as JMR TD. The goal of the program is to provide the foundation to replace the Army’s aviation fleet over the next 25 to 40 years. To that end, RDECOM’s Aviation and Missile Research Development and Engineering Center team at Redstone Arsenal, Alabama, is working with industry partners toward a goal to design and build demonstrator aircraft in 2018. This will allow us to mature the necessary technologies and reduce the risk associated with future vertical lift.

This edition of the magazine highlights aviation technology advances that will provide a greater capability to overcome the constraints of complex terrain, higher altitudes, extreme temperatures and extended distances. These are all necessary components of the Army’s goal of a regionally aligned and globally responsive force.

The center of mass for aviation research, development and engineering is at AMRDEC, but the command’s other centers are also engaged. The Army Research Laboratory is developing a futuristic dashboard concept that is sure to change Army aviation, and perhaps commercial aviation as well.

Protecting our aircrews is a high priority. Our team at the U.S. Army Edgewood Chemical Biological Center is optimizing the aircrew individual protective mask. Our Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center is developing ways to protect aircrews from surface-to-air missiles.

At the Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center we are developing innovative parachute delivery systems. At the Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center, we’re working closely with the Program Executive Office for Command, Control and Communications-Tactical to ensure our Unmanned Aircraft Systems, or UAS, are integrated into the network. True integration of manned and unmanned teaming and optionally piloted vehicles will provide new options for reconnaissance, security and logistics.

Army research and engineering efforts will lead to better speed, range, payload and mission systems that are critical for our success in future operational environments.

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Maj. Gen. John F. Wharton commands the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland. RDECOM is a major subordinate command of the U.S. Army Materiel Command. AMC is the Army’s premier provider of materiel readiness–technology, acquisition support, materiel development, logistics power projection and sustainment–to the total force, across the spectrum of joint military operations. If a Soldier shoots it, drives it, flies it, wears it, eats it or communicates with it, AMC provides it.