A fourth team is to join Boeing, Bell-Boeing and Sikorsky in competitively studying concepts for the Joint Multi Role (JMR) medium utility rotorcraft, which could replace U.S. Army UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters beginning late next decade.

Boeing, Bell-Boeing and Sikorsky were awarded 18-month configuration trades and analysis contracts at the end of June. Each is worth around $4 million, with industry contributing a similar amount.

“We are negotiating with one more, and should award a contract in the next couple of weeks,” says Ned Chase, platform technologies division chief at the Army’s Aviation Applied Technology Directorate (AATD). He spoke Aug. 31 at a conference in Patuxent River, Md., organized by vertical-lift technical society AHS International.

Concept studies are the first step toward the planned awarding of contracts to build two different JMR technology demonstrators that would fly by fiscal 2017 as a precursor for development of a new medium utility rotorcraft to be fielded around 2027-28.

The three teams already under contract are taking different approaches. One is “doing a deep dive on a single configuration,” Chase says. Another is studying three different concepts, while the third is looking at all possible options, he says.

Bell Helicopter CEO John Garrison has said previously that the Bell-Boeing team responsible for the V-22 Osprey proposed a tilt-rotor configuration for the JMR studies.

The fourth contract is taking longer to negotiate because the unidentified entity is not as experienced in contracting with the Defense Department, “but they have a good proposal,” Chase says.

The Pentagon has compiled a list of desired attributes for a JMR family of vertical-lift vehicles to replace its current fleet of helicopters, including the AH-64D Apache, UH-60M Black Hawk and CH-47F Chinook. These include 200-kt.-plus speed, 230-nm combat radius, 6,000-ft./95F hot/high performance and increased affordability, durability and survivability.

The configuration studies “will distill out the things that bring the most value, and get from a list of attributes to the design requirements for a next-generation rotorcraft,” Chase says. “They will provide the performance specification for the demonstrator aircraft.”

The same list of attributes for a medium utility JMR have been supplied to an independent government design team that is looking at advanced helicopter, compound helicopter and tilt-rotor concepts, Chase says.

The government designers are providing data on the three configurations to an operations analysis team at Fort Rucker, Ala., which will run scenarios to establish the relative operational values of the desired attributes.

AATD plans to award multiple contracts in fiscal 2013 to begin design of JMR demonstrators. Following preliminary design reviews, the Army in fiscal 2015 will downselect to two contractors to build the aircraft.

Phase 1 of the demonstration will involve flight tests of the demonstrator air vehicles. Phase 2, following two years later, will involve the design and integration of open-architecture mission systems into the demonstrator aircraft.