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DoD sheds light on joint future theater lift

Jul. 15, 2010 - 05:15PM   |   Last Updated: Jul. 15, 2010 - 05:15PM  |  
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In response to questions posed by Congress in the conference report of the 2010 defense authorization bill, the Pentagon says it is developing an overarching vertical-lift road map, as well as planning to conduct an analysis of alternatives for the Joint Future Theater Lift program.

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In response to questions posed by Congress in the conference report of the 2010 defense authorization bill, the Pentagon says it is developing an overarching vertical-lift road map, as well as planning to conduct an analysis of alternatives for the Joint Future Theater Lift program.

Both the road map and the JFTL study will have important implications for the advanced tilt-rotor industrial base, the Pentagon says.

While the JFTL study guidance has not formally been approved yet by defense acquisition executive Ashton Carter, the Army and Air Force have stood up a study team, said Lt. Col. Robert Wilson, the study's director for the Army. It is an Air Force-led effort, so for each Air Force lead, there is an Army deputy, he said.

While it awaits formal guidance, the team's members communicate weekly with each other via teleconference to keep the effort moving forward, Wilson said.

According to the Pentagon's responses to Congress, the JFTL study is critical to the Pentagon's overall vertical-lift plan.

If the road map and the JFTL alternatives study "suggest a vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) platform is the appropriate path forward for the JFTL program and advanced tilt-rotor systems are the required method of propulsion, then the Department will engage the industrial base to assess possible tilt-rotor technology maturation alternatives and determine long-term tilt-rotor technology investment requirements," according to the Pentagon response, which is marked "For Official Use Only."

The only tilt-rotor program in the U.S. military's inventory is the V-22 Osprey, built by Bell and Boeing for the U.S. Marine Corps, the Air Force's special operations forces and, eventually, the Navy. The two companies have also developed a quad tilt-rotor concept for a potential JFTL program.

"A Joint tilt-rotor theater-lift platform could lead the way to a new generation of highly capable and efficient rotorcraft in various configurations and weight classes," the Pentagon says in its response to Congress. "Tilt-rotor technology can deliver major changes and enhancements to our capabilities, and the industrial base will undoubtedly continue to be a key consideration to our strategic Future Vertical Lift plan, regardless of the outcome of the Joint Future Theater Lift" analysis of alternatives.

Congress had also asked about the operational benefits of a VTOL heavy transport aircraft and whether they outweigh the less expensive costs of using a conventional fixed-wing aircraft for the same missions.

In its response, the Pentagon says the costs of heavy-lift VTOL technology are still being determined. "The Department is in the process of initially estimating the costs and benefits of such technology," the document reads.

However, the Pentagon makes a strong case for the operational benefits of heavy-lift VTOL platforms, highlighting their ability to operate in austere locations without airfields or runways.

"Such platforms may be capable of conducting long-range, over-the-horizon sustainment missions from sea basing," the response reads. "They may also support Special Operations Force strikes and raids."

Heavy-lift VTOL platforms also allow multiple entry and exit points into an area of operations, the Pentagon says. This can decrease the United States' "reliance on third-country clearances in order to conduct operations."

Finally, the Pentagon emphasizes that until the JFTL analysis of alternatives is complete, it will not know what type of capability it is pursuing. If the study suggests the Pentagon should go after advanced technologies, DoD will consider using prototype systems to help refine requirements and costs.

"Demonstrators and prototypes incur large upfront capital investments, but they also prove the concept ahead of any development or production commitment, which can reduce overall program risk and cost," the response reads.

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