Defiant X: The U.S. Army’s New Helicopter?

https://media-s3-us-east-1.ceros.com/lockheed-martin/images/2021/01/23/39164e8a5d036a79daf8b5d305ce06ca/flraa-flight01-sm-draft.png?imageOpt=1

Defiant X: The U.S. Army’s New Helicopter?

Two of the United States’ most experienced helicopters designers teamed up to design what could be the future of helicopters and air assault.

In jointly-released statements yesterday, Sikorsky and Boeing announced their Defiant X aircraft to the world. The advanced helicopter design is a contender for the Army’s Future Long Range Assault Aircraft, currently one of the Army’s highest priorities. Lockheed Martin, Sikorsky’s partner company and Boeing released their identical announcements simultaneously. 

Their Defiant X design is based on the SB-1 Defiant, a similar though smaller technology demonstrator. In June, the SB-1 recorded a top speed of 235 miles per hour, already much faster than typical helicopter speeds. According to a SB-1 test pilot, the SB-1 used less than 50 percent of engine output to reach that speed, indicating that the larger and likely more powerful Defiant X could reach even higher speeds.

The SB-1 offered several advantages over the venerable Black Hawk helicopter it would like to replace. Though it has the same footprint as the Black Hawk, it has about double the helicopter’s top speed and range, and thanks to its contrarotating composite rotors, is likely more maneuverable. SB-1 engineers have also touted the SB-1’s ability to fly lower to the ground and at higher speed than most helicopters can, an ability that could help the Defiant X avoid enemy radar.

Though the new Defiant X and its parent SB-1 airframe share many visual similarities, spokespeople at Boeing and Lockheed Martin have stated that the Defiant X features improvements to its aerodynamics and a reduced thermal signature.

The Defiant X has a number of unique features not seen on other helicopters. Most noticeably, the platform’s rear pusher propeller is what was responsible for the SB-1’s high top speed and could prove to be a crucial advantage in hopping in and out of battlefields. The Lockheed Martin-Boeing aircraft would serve as an air assault platform and ferry troops into combat, and as a cargo transport. Company art shows the Defiant Xs with underslung 155mm howitzers as well as other cargo, highlighting its use as a high-speed transport.

In addition, the Defiant’s sleek fuselage is made of composites, which both companies state reduce vibration, is lighter, and more corrosion resistant. Retractable landing gear also contribute to the Defiant’s smooth airframe and high top speed.

Together Sikorsky and Boeing have built about 90 percent of the U.S. Army’s current military helicopters, making them strong contenders for the Army’ Future Long Range Assault Aircraft competition, though they’re not the only firm competing.

Bell, the company behind the V-22 Osprey tiltrotor used by the Marine Corps, Navy, and Air Force, also have a horse in the running: their V-280 Valor tiltrotor aircraft draws upon some of the technologies used in the larger V-22.

Postscript

Now that Lockheed Martin and Boeing have gone public with their Future Long Range Assault Aircraft prototype, Bell is likely to release public information on their prototype soon as well.

Caleb Larson is a Defense Writer with The National Interest. He holds a Master of Public Policy and covers U.S. and Russian security, European defense issues, and German politics and culture.

Image: Sikorsky and Boeing.