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Dutch air force chief dissatisfied with U.S. Army helicopter plan

By Ryan Maass
Dutch air force chief dissatisfied with U.S. Army helicopter plan
A U.S. Army CH-47 Chinook helicopter is one of the vehicles that may be replaced by the Future Vertical Lift program. U.S. Army photo by Teddy Wade/UPI | License Photo

LONDON, Sept. 15 (UPI) -- The U.S. military's Future Vertical Lift program to develop new battlefield helicopters does not impress the top air force chief in the Netherlands.

Royal Netherlands Air Force (RNLAF) commander Lt. Gen. Alexander Schnitger spoke at a rotorcraft panel at the Defence and Security Equipment International exhibition in London on Sept. 14, and voiced his disappointment with the ongoing U.S. efforts to create the next generation of helicopters.

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"So far I am not impressed or convinced that the current plans are advanced enough to survive use past 2030," Lt. Gen. Shnitger said.

Future Vertical Lift is a program by the U.S. Department of Defense to develop a new family of military helicopters, dating as far back as 2004. The U.S. Army has asked Bell Helicopters and a joint venture between Sikorsky and Boeing to develop an entirely new generation of helicopters for the United States and its allies. The new helicopters are meant to replace the UH-60 Black Hawk, AH-64 Apache, CH-47 Chinook, and OH-58 Kiowa.

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Bell is designing an aircraft that takes off like a helicopter using rotating propellers, and then accelerates to the top speed of an airplane. The Sikorsky-Boeing design functions in a similar way, using a compound motor and a rear propeller.

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According to Lt. Gen. Schnitger, these designs will not win a war, and he says the designs for the future are too stuck in the past.

"Sure, requirements call for a helicopter that is twice as fast and can fly twice as far as the current generation," Lt. Gen. Schnitger continued, "but both solutions are based on '80s technology, refreshed a little bit."

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The U.S. Army is prioritizing the development of machines that are more adaptable to extreme weather conditions, including fog, dust, rain and snow, while also being more maneuverable to avoid ground-level threats like small-arms fire, rocket-propelled grenades, and missiles.

The U.S. Department of Defense is currently locked in a risk reduction procedure known as the Joint Multi-Role - Technology Demonstrator, which is manufacturing flying prototypes ahead of the Future Vertical Lift program. FVL production is scheduled to begin in 2030, when RNLAF head Lt. Gen. Schnitger says there will be no practical need for the new machines.

Lt. Gen. Schnitger is calling for more participation from other European countries in developing new military vehicles. He oversees 83 military helicopters in the Netherlands, including American-made Chinooks and Apaches.

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