Army Pilots to Learn Bold New Tactics to Fly Future Helicopters

Future Long Range Assault Aircraft or FLRAA
The FLRAA CD&RR project agreements under the AMTC OTA were awarded to Bell Textron Incorporated, and Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation. (Photos courtesy of Industry)

As the Army moves to field futuristic helicopters in the next decade, aviation officials are not waiting to train pilots in aggressive new tactics for the future battlefield.

The Army's Future Vertical Lift, or FVL, effort is testing prototypes for the Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft, or FARA, and the Future Long Range Assault Aircraft, or FLRAA. The new generation of helicopters is being designed to fly faster and farther than any aircraft in the service's current fleet to penetrate deep into the radar and anti-aircraft defense networks of adversaries such as Russia and China.

Maj. Gen. David Francis, commander of the Army's Aviation Center of Excellence at Fort Rucker, Alabama, said Wednesday that the service's aviators must start preparing now for these new advancements in performance.

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"It's imperative that we make some fundamental changes in addition to the material piece," Francis told an audience at the Association of the United States Army's Global Force Next symposium. "Because of the transformational capability that Future Vertical Lift will bring to our aviation forces, it's going to change the way we fight."

The aviation center has launched an effort to train pilots to fly in large-scale combat operations, a shift from the type of flying aviators have been doing for the past two decades of counterinsurgency operations in the Middle East, Francis said.

"We are training our [aviators] to fly low. … This is not new to Army aviation, but, quite frankly, it's relatively new to this generation of Army aviation," he said. "So, we are very deliberately training the force through training support packages to fly at terrain flight altitudes against radar threats that will enable us to survive, fight and win in future battlefields."

Once a unit is fielded with new FVL aircraft, it will have to be trained to employ the helicopters effectively as a unit before it can be released back to the Army, Francis said.

New leaders coming into the service will have to be trained differently to fight in future conflicts, he added.

"We are going to be operating in dispersed environments. We have to train and sustain and conduct operations from a distributed kind of position to be able to converge effects at the time and place our choosing ... and then be able to redisperse those forces and sustain them over time," Francis said.

The Army will also have to look at whether new military occupational specialties need to be created to support FVL, Francis said. "Or are we going to condense some of those to be a little more efficient to where we can cross-train our maintainers and our operators to operate across multiple airframes and systems as required?"

-- Matthew Cox can be reached at

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