Bell 360 Invictus and Army Aviation Close Capability Gap for Multi-Domain Operations
The future attack reconnaissance aircraft plots a new course for Army aviation.
In future conflicts, attack reconnaissance aircraft will be key to “achieving and sustaining overmatch against potential competitors and enduring asymmetric threats by closing or mitigating gaps in Army Aviation attack reconnaissance,” according to the U.S. Army. Enter the Bell 360 Invictus, a fast and sophisticated yet low-risk and affordable platform with capabilities that offer increased operational flexibility and create dilemmas for the enemy in multi-domain operations.
“There will be air defenses protecting enemy forces,” said Grady King, director of future attack reconnaissance aircraft sales and strategy at Bell. “We will have to go up and kick down the door. We will breach those defenses using sensors, air-launched effects, and long-range precision fires, and that will allow other aircraft and forces to penetrate enemy areas and achieve objectives.”
The Army calls this vision FARA, the Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft, and it will change how wars are fought and won.
For the past several years, Bell has been working with the Army to develop a new generation of piloted aircraft that delivers a lethal, survivable, and sustainable combat rotorcraft with a modular open systems approach as part of the FARA competition. A piloted FARA brings human curiosity in reconnaissance and decision authority at the point of action while also leveraging technological advances in autonomous capabilities to deliver an unmatched combination of capabilities to the aviation force. The Army is developing this capability now for deployment into maneuver formations in the early 2030s.
Bell’s 360 Invictus is an advanced, high-speed platform that incorporates a proven low-drag tandem cockpit airframe with a lift-sharing wing, an articulated single main rotor, and efficient turbine engine performance that provides superior operational reach beyond any comparable aircraft ever fielded. The Bell 360 is a clean-sheet, digitally designed weapon system that features advanced, lethal, and open mission systems. These open systems provide operators with improved survivability and affordable upgradability, which keep this aircraft ready to fly in any condition. This FARA platform will be the most advanced and sustainable attack reconnaissance platform ever.
Lethal, Open, Survivable, Affordable
Peer threats are more capable, with the ability to contest and deny access in all domains, including land. FARA aims to breach denied areas, disintegrate enemy defenses and give our forces freedom to maneuver.
“Adversaries have long-range artillery supported by capable air defenses that can deny our ability to operate in some areas. In the opening phases of a battle, FARA strike missions in the low air domain must be capable of penetrating from longer ranges at higher speeds to find and exploit opportunities in defenses,” King said. “These new capabilities from a platform such as the Bell 360 manifest as faster reaction times and longer endurance to support troops in contact and maneuver forces in other phases of the fight.”
FARA weapon systems require the ability to employ technology and flight characteristics to address these theater-level opening phases that the enduring fleet is unable to address. The Army is pursuing platforms with significantly higher speeds, longer range, and greater endurance in the objective area. Additionally, these aircraft need open systems designs to incorporate the best systems available while providing an option for rapidly incorporating upgrades to defeat evolving threats.
The Army wants “open” — as in a Modular Open Systems Approach, or MOSA, that ensures weapons systems are readily adaptable. The Army requires plug-and-play platforms that will accommodate future improvements such as artificial intelligence-enabled targeting, enhanced long-range sensing, hardened communications systems, and other emerging technological advantages.
Bell addresses these capability gaps in a low-risk and efficient design approach as unproven complexity on the battlefield does not align with multi-domain operations. The Bell 360 Invictus brings an open digital backbone architecture that is common to Bell’s V-280 FLRAA aircraft. The modular open systems approach on these Army Future Vertical Lift aircraft is a significant differentiator from enduring platforms with closed, proprietary architectures. These new aircraft build upon Army lessons learned providing true open systems architecture and Army-owned technical data rights. This allows the Army to sustain and upgrade rapidly and affordably while preventing vendor-lock.
With a massive internal payload capacity and responsive turreted weapon system, the Bell 360 Invictus is lethal and survivable. The Bell 360 carries an integrated munitions launcher capable of deploying weapons such as the Joint Air to Ground Missile, laser-guided Hydra 70 rockets, Spike NLOS weapons, and the emerging Long-Range Precision Munitions. It can also launch and control the latest drone systems, known as Air Launched Effects, to give forces an operational advantage.
“The sensors on the Air Launched Effects extend situational awareness and reach, enabling the destruction of the enemy with long-range precision fires or on-board weapons,” King said.
The aircraft’s range and speed give ground commanders the ability to gain an early-stage advantage. It can quickly arrive on scene to conduct reconnaissance, “and it can carry long-range precision munitions to take out enemy vehicles or other capabilities,” King said.
“While FARA brings lethality and survivability for penetrating attacks, it is equally capable of long-endurance armed reconnaissance and security operations,” he added.
The FARA program is also improving on survivability with its performance requirements. The Bell 360 Invictus design is high-speed and capable of incorporating state-of-the-art survivability equipment the Army can rapidly and affordably modify using open systems to defeat emerging threats and therefore increase survivability over time. The Army can do this on its own, with the prime, or with the vendor of its choice.
By addressing these requirements from the outset, the Bell 360 Invictus can offer all the necessary improvements affordably throughout the life cycle of the weapon system. The design reduces complexity without sacrificing performance to ensure high availability and affordable sustainment in austere conditions – Army conditions. For example, rotor blades are traditionally the highest cost-drivers for rotary wing platforms. Bell’s efficient single main rotor design minimizes the number of blades and incorporates technologies to reduce the cost of the blades while improving their manufacturability. Every aspect of the design includes a maintainer mindset to ensure ease of sustainment. Bell’s holistic approach reduces lifecycle maintenance and servicing requirements by extending maintenance-free operating periods and using standard tools and equipment.
“Sustainability is a crucial consideration for the Army,” King said, “which needs a FARA solution that will be future-ready: easily sustained on the battlefield, and able to incorporate new and emerging technologies as fast as they become available.”
Supporting Army’s Future Vision
FARA directly supports the priorities in the Army’s recently released Field Manual 3-0, which calls for agility, convergence, endurance, and depth in warfighting capabilities, with an eye toward effective multi-domain operations.
The Army is looking to “exploit relative advantages that achieve objectives, defeat enemy forces, and consolidate gains on behalf of joint force commanders,” King said, and defeating air defenses is key to that vision. “This is what allows them the freedom to maneuver, to get into a position of relative advantage, while information from FARA-enabled Army units drive decision dominance.”
This modern platform “will give us the speed, range, lethality, and survivability to go where we can’t today. It’s the ability to converge reconnaissance with lethal fires, to penetrate and disintegrate the enemy forces,” he said.
In the big picture, FARA, as embodied by Invictus, supports the Army’s key modernization priorities.
The Army is looking to advance long-range precision fires; to develop a next-generation combat vehicle; to create future vertical lift capabilities, and to build network-integrated air and missile defenses.
“FARA is going to be the breaching force that will allow the Army to bring all those capabilities into the fight,” King said.
Learn more about Bell 360 Invictus’s role in the future of U.S. competitive advantage at bellflight.com.
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