The U.S. Military's Next Super Stealth Weapon Is Not What You Think It Is
Bell Helicopters emerging V-280 Valor aims to engineer an advanced tiltrotor aircraft able to hit speeds of 280 knots, hover and maneuver like a next-generation helicopter -- all while reducing the radar signature of the aircraft.
Bell Helicopter engineers and weapons developers and looking at innovative ways to reduce the radar signature of their new, next-generation V-280 Valor tilt-rotor aircraft slated to be operational by the 2030s.
While developers stop short of calling the new project a “stealth” helicopter, they do acknowledge they are engineering “stealthy” characteristics -- such as infrared (IR) heat suppressing systems and various fuselage contour constructions as a specific way to make the new aircraft less targetable by enemies.
“We will definitely employ some passive measures in terms of how we shape the aircraft, to make it invisible. The key is not to be able to target it and reduce the signature passively so radar sweeps do not see anything. In the end, you do not want to get detected or engaged,” Vince Tobin, vice president of advanced tiltrotor systems, Bell Helicopter, told Scout Warrior in an interview.
While, quite naturally, many of the specifics regarding stealth technology are not available, there are a few broad parameters followed closely by developers of low-observability aircraft. They include reducing the heat signature coming from engines or exhaust along with efforts to shape the exterior of the aircraft to be less detectable to “pings” or return signals to enemy radar.
Radar sends electromagnetic signals, pulses or “pings” traveling at the speed of light – bounces them off of an object – and analyzes the return signal to determine the shape, size and speed of an enemy target. For this reason, electronic “jamming” is another tactic used to thwart or throw off enemy radar systems.
Recognizing the importance of lowering the helicopters heat signature, Tobin explained that Bell is now investigating cutting-edge engine technologies specifically designed to reduce the heat they emit.
“We are looking for opportunities to reduce that heat signature. A lot of new technologies that the engine companies are looking for include seeking the best ways to ensure maximum performance of the engine while using an IR suppressor,” Tobin explained.
A key strategy, Tobin explained, is to use IR suppressor to reduce the signature so that less “jamming” is needed to confuse enemy radar.
Advancing Tiltrotor Technology:
Bell intends to build upon and advance existing tiltrotor technology such as that which is currently operation in the Bell-Boeing V-22 Osprey aircraft. The Osprey continues to perform well in a wide range of missions and has recently been selected by the Navy to perform the Carrier On-board Delivery or COD mission transporting troops, equipment and weapons on-and-off surface ships.
The V-280 Valor is designed to be slightly bigger than an existing Black Hawk helicopter and use 24-inch seats to carry 11 passengers with gear, Tobin said.
“What Bell has done is taking its historical V-22 aircraft, and all the demonstrators before that, and applies them to this next-generation tilt-rotor. It is a straight wing versus a V-22 which is not straight. This reduces complexity,” Dan Bailey, JMR TD Program Manager, said in an interview with Scout Warrior last year. “They are also building additional flapping into the rotor system and individual controls that should allow for increased low-speed maneuverability.”
The tiltrotors were engineered into the aircraft this past November, Tobin added.
We will get the gear boxes and transmission in before we get those blades on,” Tobin explained.
Depending upon ultimate requirement established by the Army and DoD, Bell expects to engineer an attack variant of the aircraft with a slightly different fuselage configuration.
“An armed attack version will have a gun, 2.75in folding-fin rockets and some type of point-to-point missile - hellfire or some later generation missile that would guide off of a laser or IR. We are being open ended in that we are not designing any specific requirement,” Tobin explained.
V-280 Valor Uses F-35 Sensor:
The V-280 Valor next-generation tiltrotor aircraft for the 2030s includes the integration of a high-tech 360-degree sensor suite quite similar to the one used on the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter called a Distributed Aperture Systems, or DAS, developers explained.
“Instead of having sensors mounted to the turret, you have sensors that are mounted to the aircraft – so essentially you have sensors staring in 360-degrees around the aircraft at any given time. Those images are stitched together so it appears as one continuous image to the pilot. Both pilots can make use of the same system,” Tobin said.
This technology will also allow troops riding in the back of the aircraft to wear goggles or a helmet giving them a view of the surrounding sensor feeds as they transit to a mission, Tobin added.
The Northrop Grumman-built DAS system will also form the basis of a small-arms enemy fire detection technology which will search for and locate the signature of incoming enemy attacks. The sensors will be able to discern the location and heat signature coming from enemy small arms fire, giving the aircraft and opportunity to quickly attack with its weapons – lowering risk of injury to the pilots, crew and passengers.
Army Future Vertical Lift - 2030s:
The new Bell tiltrotor, called the V-280 Valor, is part of the Army’s Joint Multi-Role Technology Demonstrator program aimed at establishing requirements and paving the way toward a new Future Vertical Lift aircraft designed to meet a wide range of new requirements.