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SOCOM advances SOF rotary wing modernisation


Donald McKelvy
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Aug 14, 2009
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"Farnborough: SOCOM advances SOF rotary wing modernisation"

10th July 2014 - 11:12 by Jonathan Tringham in London


Farnborough: US Special Operations Command (SOCOM) is moving ahead with key upgrades to its MH-60M, MH-47G, and A/MH-6M combat helicopters, including the Block III version of the Little Bird.

With the Future Vertical Lift (FVL) programme heading toward down-select at the end of July, SOCOM is also looking to ‘inject’ its requirements into the initial development and design efforts of the FVL programme, in order to minimise the need for any subsequent ‘SOF-specific’ modifications.

In its fiscal year 2015 budget submission to the US DoD in March, SOCOM defined a series of modifications and upgrades to enhance the capabilities of its existing Special Operations Forces (SOF) helicopters, and ensure they can be effectively integrated with future rotary platforms.

As part of the SOF modernisation effort, the A/MH-6 Mission Enhanced Little Bird (MELB) is undergoing a Block III upgrade that will see modifications to the platform’s airframe and rotors, as well as engine control and cockpit upgrades.

The chassis will be restored and reinforced in order to wind back a decade’s worth of battle damage. In addition, the main and tail rotor blades will be replaced with commercially available and competitively selected alternatives.

The A/MH-6M’s cockpit avionics architecture will be redesigned to incorporate a fully integrated digital Common Avionics Architecture System (CAAS), with the intention of optimising platform interoperability and enhancing battlefield situational awareness.

SOCOM is also looking to source a mission-configurable missile warning system (MWS) and infra-red countermeasures capability (IRCM) for the MELB, which does not currently exist at a suitable weight for the platform.

As part of an effort to increase the survivability of MH-60 and MH-47 platforms flying in degraded visual environments (DVE), SOCOM is conducting a competitive source selection to procure synthetic vision systems capable of providing real-time ‘see through’ imagery, and heads-up display visual cueing for obstacle avoidance and landing zone assistance.

The Joint Multi-Role (JMR) Technology Demonstrator (TD) programme – the precursor to the wider Future Vertical Lift (FVL) effort – took a major step forward in June as AVX, Bell Helicopter, Boeing/Sikorsky and Karem Aircraft all submitted their proposals to the US Army for consideration.

With two teams opting for a coaxial compound design (AVX and Boeing/Sikorsky) and two choosing to submit a tiltrotor configuration (Bell and Karem), the JMR TD will go a long way to determining the future make-up of the army’s rotorcraft component.

FVL will initially replace the UH-60 Black Hawk and AH-64 Apache from the mid-2030s.

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