The Future Long-Range Assault Aircraft Program is Coming Up Short

The Future Long-Range Assault Aircraft Program is Coming Up Short

And the Air Force Special Operations Command isn’t too excited.

The U.S. Army is currently trying to find a replacement for both the UH-60 Blackhawk, and the AH-64 Apache. Though certainly capable, both platforms are growing a bit long in the tooth: the Blackhawk entered service in the late 1970s, and the Apache in the mid-1980s. What is the Army considering as a replacement for both? Whatever comes out of the Future Long-Range Assault Aircraft program.

Long Range Assault

The FLRAA program aims to combine the best characteristics of a helicopter, and a turboprop airplane—in essence a tilt rotor. The two competitors? Sikorsky-Boeing joined forces for the FLRAA project and is offering their Defiant tilt rotor, whereas Bell Textron is offering their V-280 Valor. Though both of the airframes have greater capabilities than the current American tilt rotor, will it be enough? The Air Force Special Operations Command Commander doesn’t think so.

At the Association of the Air Force’s Air & Space Symposium, U.S. Air Force Lieutenant General James Slife was emphatic in his feelings about the FLRAA program. “I don’t see the V-280 as the replacement for the V-22,” he stated. The reason? Neither of the two FLRAA competitors offer a significant leap in capabilities when compared to the older V-22 Osprey. “When the time comes for a follow-on to the V-22, I think we are looking...for a generation beyond kind of tilt rotor technology,” Lieutenant General Slife explained.

As previously reported, the Sikorsky-Boeing SB-1 Defiant set a best speed record in June of 235 miles per hour, or about 380 kilometers. Though this speed does indeed make it faster than most helicopters, it pales in comparison to the V-22 Osprey’s respectable 310 miles per hour, or about 500 kilometers.

Bell’s Valor is somewhat better. According to company information, the Valor is able to cruise at 280 knots per hour, or about 320 miles. Granted, it should be acknowledged that the V-22 is a mature platform with many years of testing and development under its belt—and that the Defiant and the Valor are still in development.

Still, the difference between the V-22’s capabilities and those of either of either prototype are remarkable. “We are not just looking at marginal improvement in speed and range and reliability,” Lieutenant General Slife explained to reporters. “We are looking at a generational movement for vertical takeoff and landing capability going into the future.” This is especially important when considering the V-22 variant in service with the U.S. Special Operations Command, the CV-22, has a greatly increased range thanks to extra auxiliary fuel tanks and is apparently well-liked.


Will the Future Long-Range Assault Aircraft program produce anything of value? Perhaps its too early to tell. One this is sure though—unless the SB-1 Defiant or the V-280 Valor get some seriously upgraded capabilities, Air Force Special Operations Command just isn’t that interested.

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: Reuters