US Army spent billions on a new helicopter that now will never fly

The U.S. Army is ending its latest effort to build a new armed scout helicopter, known as the Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft, an abrupt change of direction that marks one of the department’s most significant program cancellations of the last decade.

The service had already spent at least $2 billion on the program and had requested another $5 billion for the next five years, according to budget documents.

The helicopter program arrived in 2018 with lofty expectations. Army leaders hoped it would serve as a model for new acquisition approaches for its most complex and most expensive weapon systems. Prototypes from Bell Textron and Lockheed Martin’s Sikorsky were expected to fly later this year. And, perhaps most importantly, the aircraft was slated to provide a long-needed armed scout solution after decades of starts and stops.

But Thursday, the Army’s top acquisition officials described a new vision and major aviation overhaul. In addition to ending FARA, the Army plans to get rid of its entire Shadow and Raven unmanned aircraft fleets, said Doug Bush, the service’s acquisition chief.

Finally, the service will delay procurement of its next-generation helicopter engine, which was set to be used in all UH-60s, AH-64 Apache attack helicopters as well as to power FARA.

Instead, Bush said the Army will spend the newly available money on Black Hawks, the latest variant of the CH-47F Block II Chinook cargo helicopter, the Future Long-Range Assault Aircraft and research and development efforts to accelerate its unmanned aerial reconnaissance capability.

Gen. James Rainey, an acquisition leader overseeing the program, said he doesn’t view the cancellation “as a failure” for Army Futures Command, the Austin, Texas-based office heading the service’s modernization efforts.