Modernizing Future Vertical Lift

RI&S sensors offer multiple capabilities for enhanced air dominance

These systems will transform how the Army fights and wins in the multi-domain battlespace.

It’s called Future Vertical Lift, and it’s a major part of the U.S. Army’s modernization effort. Its aim is to modernize the Army’s fleet of reconnaissance, attack and assault aircraft with faster, longer range, more survivable aircraft to provide overmatch against adversaries.

“Future Vertical Lift is a fundamental pillar in the Army’s modernization strategy and its efforts to ensure they’re combat ready across all domains – air, land, sea, cyber and space,” said Denis Donohue, President of Surveillance & Network Systems at Raytheon Intelligence & Space, a Raytheon Technologies business. “We’re working to provide those advanced capabilities to deliver vertical lift dominance in the future battlespace against complex threats.”

One of the new aircraft, Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft, will fill the gap left by the retirement of the Kiowa Warrior helicopter, while another, the Future Long Range Assault Aircraft, will replace the Black Hawk helicopter. Both are expected to become operational in the early 2030s.

“The decisions the Army makes in the next few years will lay the foundation for the next 30 to 60 years,” said Mark Sims, senior director of business development and strategy and Future Vertical Lift Campaign lead for Raytheon Intelligence & Space. “These innovative, brand new aircraft will have greater speed and range. Advanced sensors and mission systems will help the Army get to the combat zone faster and achieve its target objectives further out by decreasing operator workload, increasing survivability and lethality, all while reducing size, weight, power, and cooling requirements.

Five RI&S capabilities that could equip FVL to operate in the new battlespace include:

Situational Awareness

The Raytheon Distributed Aperture System offers FVL aircraft a 360-degree sensor suite providing unprecedented situational awareness to navigate in any battlespace – from detecting missiles to operating in severe weather conditions.

“Traditionally tactical formations rely on each other for full-spherical defensive coverage,” said Russ “Rudder” Smith, a retired U.S. Air Force colonel who now leads business development for tactical electro-optical and infrared systems at Raytheon Intelligence & Space. “RDAS creates a protective bubble around a platform, where aircrews can look up/down and side-to-side. It doesn’t matter if there’s metal beneath their feet or on their side. They can see right through it and look outside.”

An FVL platform with RDAS would provide comprehensive situational awareness even in degraded visual environments, providing advanced tactical surveillance and targeting capabilities to enhance superiority against adversaries. To outpace future threats, RI&S is designing both RDAS and multi-function sensors with a Modular Open Systems Approach to enable fast and affordable software upgrades.

Multi-Spectral Targeting System with AI/ML

In high-risk environments, rapid, actionable intelligence helps crews respond faster to threats. RI&S is using artificial intelligence and machine learning to augment intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities in its Multi-Spectral Targeting System, which provides visible and infrared intelligence and targeting information for an array of airborne platforms. “We’re developing next-generation electro-optical infrared (EO/IR) sensors around a Modular Open Systems Approach enabling advanced mission capabilities in turreted and podded solutions,” said Paul Hopkins, RI&S director of business development for Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Systems. “Our next-gen systems fuse advanced sensing, tracking, and targeting with Artificial intelligence and machine learning based cognitive aids to provide operators with actionable data to make accurate decisions faster than our adversaries.”


The third capability RI&S offers for next-generation aircraft is its advanced active electronically scanned array radio frequency system, which provides radar, terrain avoidance, electronic warfare, airborne and ground-moving targeting, and data communications functions.

The AESA radar can provide full 360-degree sensor coverage and terrain-following and terrain-avoidance functions, a capability that allows aircraft to easily maneuver undetected at low-altitudes in hostile territories. It also offers 360-degree coverage for electronic warfare support, as well as tactical communications capabilities that allow sharing data between aircraft. The AESA radar can be tailored to fit any platform.

“Weight is a critical factor in FLRAA and FARA aircraft to enable both higher speeds and longer ranges,” said Todd Lovell, chief engineer for RI&S’ Future Vertical Lift campaign. “They don’t have a lot of room on them for the traditional stand-alone sensor packages, so we need to be more innovative, smaller and lighter. And we bring all of that to bear into our RF solution for future vertical lift.”

Electronic Warfare & High Energy Lasers

Future Vertical Lift aircraft will also need the right tools to compete in the electromagnetic spectrum. RI&S is working on a family of solutions called RF Armor. They combine jammers and radar-warning receivers, providing operators with self-protect and electronic attack capabilities while helping them evade detection by adversary radar.

RF Armor includes mature EW capabilities in a compact, open-architecture system that can be used to support a variety of FVL platforms.

“In addition to RF Armor, sensor and effector technologies using high-energy lasers could give FVL operators an advantage when dealing with asymmetric threats,” said Jeremy Carney, RI&S business development executive for Electronic Warfare Systems. “Electronic warfare and high-energy laser technologies equip aircrews to operate more effective against modern threats, maximizing both lethality and survivability.”

Advanced processer

Next-generation aircraft will require mission processing that provides advanced situational awareness and combat systems control of weapon systems to deliver a clear picture of the battlefield.

And that’s where RI&S’ platform-agnostic product family called Common Open Secure Mission Computer, or COSMC, can help. The open computing environment can go on any aircraft – fixed, rotary, unmanned or wide-body wing.

“COSMC has multiple high-level functions depending on the platform and the mission’s capability,” said Michelle Moholt, RI&S COSMC architect for Trusted Mission Processing. “So, for instance, if an aircrew is using COSMC as an airborne mission computer, it would serve as the brains of the entire aircraft. It’s the hub of the plane or platform.”

Because of its flexibility, COSMC can support multi-role/multi-function processing for integrating sensor systems. This saves space on the platform, allows for improved data correlation/fusion, and can allow sensors to share resources and distribute processing for added performance or redundancy if needed.

As the Army prepares for the modern battlespace, RI&S is pioneering cutting-edge technologies to meet the challenges of FVL.

“We have multiple advanced capabilities for FVL that could help the Army survive and fight efficiently in the new multi-domain battlespace,” Sims said. “And we’re working with all stakeholders to help them understand what the art of the possible is and what we will bring to the fight.”