Despite all the talk of budget cuts and sequestration, the US Army is pushing ahead with development of the next generation of transport helicopter.
Known as the Joint Multi-Role Technology Demonstrator (JMRTD), the project envisions a new chopper with a four-man crew, capacity for twelve additional passengers, “ambient” hover from takeoff at 6,000 ft., and a minimum 2,100 nm range and 230 kt top speed.
Bell-Lockheed and Boeing-Sikorsky are competing for the project, with both having released conceptual transport helicopters.
Bell’s V-280 “Valor” is a hybrid chopper-plane in the mold of its V-22 “Osprey,” now in active service. Bell unveiled the Valor in 2013 and boasts a 300 nm top speed and fourteen-man troop capacity. Given the Osprey’s wide usage, the Valor appears a formidable contender for the JMRTD.
The Sikorsky-Boeing SB-1 Defiant utilizes the traditional chopper formula, albeit in a “coaxial” shape. The two firms claim their prototype can reach 250 kts and features 50% greater cargo space over a Black Hawk helicopter. Boeing and Sikorsky see the Defiant becoming the primary military and attack chopper in the US armed forces – an optimistic vision, given the Pentagon’s historic conservatism.
That conservatism led the Army to can the Sikorsky-Boeing RAH-66 “Comanche,” a proposed successor to the AH-64 Apache and AH-1 Cobra gunships, in 2004 after one and a half decades of development.
The JMRTD would replace the long-running Sikorsky UH-60 “Black Hawk” as the US Army’s primary transport helicopter. The Black Hawk first entered service in 1979 and spawned dozens of variants in service with over twenty nations. The Black Hawk generally specs at a 160 kt top speed, 1,200 nm range, and has a crew of four. The Army projects the Black Hawk to be in service well into the 2030s.
The Black Hawk has served aboard operations both celebrated–such as 2011’s Neptune Spear, which killed Osama bin Laden–and operations mourned, as in 1993’s Gothic Serpent in Mogadishu (the subject of Mark Bowden’s Black Hawk Down).