A decision on whether to launch a competition to replace the U.S. Army’s Bell OH-58 Kiowa Warrior armed scout helicopters should not be rushed, says Brig. Gen. Tim Crosby, program executive officer for aviation.

Crosby’s comments come after it was revealed that Army leadership requested more information when the aviation branch presented its justification and acquisition plan for the Armed Aerial Scout (AAS) for approval.

“The senior leadership is wrestling with budget constraints and trying to understand the future force structure,” he told an Association of the United States Army (AUSA) conference in National Harbor, Md., Jan. 11.

“This is much bigger than aviation. It is the future of the Army,” Crosby says. “We must not rush into a decision. We must maintain a strategic vision that we will not divert from 30 days down the road.”

Calling on the companies jockeying to supply up to 368 new-build AAS helicopters to be patient, he says the Army leadership “should not pressure ourselves into a decision that will change.”

Crosby says the additional information requested by Army senior leaders is available from the analyses of alternatives (AoA) and voluntary flight demonstrations already completed by the aviation branch.

While the Army vice chief of staff directed the AAS team to take into account the pace of development and fielding of unmanned aircraft, the AoAs “unequivocally” validated the need for manned reconnaissance, he says.

No date is being given for a decision on whether to proceed with a competition. AgustaWestland is offering the AW169, Boeing the AH-6i, EADS North America the AAS-72/72X, MD Helicopters the MD 540F and Sikorsky the S-97 Raider.

The armed scout is the Army’s “most urgent capability gap,” Maj. Gen. Kevin Mangum, commander of the Army’s Aviation Center of Excellence in Fort Rucker, Ala., told the AUSA conference.

The capability demonstrated by the Boeing AH-64E attack helicopter teamed with the General Atomics MQ-1C Gray Eagle unmanned aircraft “is why we need to continue manned armed recce,” he says, adding “It’s powerful stuff.”

Plans to begin replacing the Army’s Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawks after 2030 with the Future Vertical Lift Medium (FVL-M) advanced rotorcraft are also under review by senior leadership, Crosby says.

Mangum says the aviation branch is looking for increased speed, range, payload and hot/high performance from the FVL.

“Speed is absolutely important,” he says, to enable forced entry, support distributed forces and engage time-sensitive targets.

At 230 kt., the FVL-M would be almost 50% faster than the UH-60M, with more than 40% longer unrefueled range. The FVL-M would carry fewer troops, but with a design gross weight of around 30,000 lb. would be heavier than the UH-60M.

The Army wants the new-design rotorcraft to carry a nine-person squad and four crew. There is also a requirement to lift a 9,000-lb. M-777 gun. “We won’t sling-carry very far with the FVL-M, as that drives the design,” Mangum says.