Mitch Snyder, president and CEO of Bell, a Textron Company, gives an update on current projects, the potential for future Army tiltrotor aircraft, and working across the joint force on future unmanned aircraft during an interview with Defense & Aerospace Report Editor Vago Muradian at the 2018 AUSA Annual Meeting in Washington, DC. Our AUSA coverage is brought to you by Bell, a Textron Company, Elbit System of America, L3 Technologies, Leonardo DRS, and Safran.
President and CEO, Bell, a Textron company
AUSA Annual Meeting
Vago Muradian: Welcome to the Defense and Aerospace Report. I’m Vago Muradian here at the Association of the United States Army’s Annual Conference and Trade Show in Washington, DC, the number one gathering of U.S. Army leaders from all around the world to talk about the service’s future, its strategy, budgets, technology and more. Our coverage here is sponsored by Bell, a Textron company; Elbit Systems of America; L3 Technologies; Leonardo DRS; and SAFRAN. And we’re here on the Bell stand to talk to Mitch Snyder, the President and CEO of Bell. Mitch, great seeing you.
Mitch Snyder: It’s excellent seeing you as well, and thanks for joining us.
Mr. Muradian: It’s an absolute pleasure. We had a great conversation at Farnborough, and I just want to follow up. A lot of action at this AUSA. Army leadership making the message and the importance of modernization. Obviously the Joint Future, or the Future Vertical Lift is one of the priorities. I know General Rugen has been spending a lot of time talking to all of you guys about that. He’s the Capability, the Cross-Functional Team Lead for that.
Talk to us first, give us an update on how the Valor program is doing. The 280 has been moving through the flight development process and you guys have been going faster and faster with the airplane. So bring us up to speed on what you guys are up to.
Mr. Snyder: I think Don Grove, our test pilot, is a CV-22 test pilot, said it best. He said the V-280 is a sports car. You know, the V-22 is a fantastic truck, but the V-280 is a sports car. Very maneuverable, very fast, efficient. Quite different from flying the V-22.
So I think the program is progressing well. We have over 65 hours of flight on the aircraft, 155 hours of rotor turn time. We’ve had it at 1.9Gs. We’ve had it flying at 50 percent torque at 200 knots. At 250 knots we’ve had it out to flying at 80 percent RPM. So it’s progressing well. We plan on flying it at the 280 knots before the end of the year, and then next year we plan on doing some autonomy work with it where it flies by itself.
Mr. Muradian: Tell us a little bit. You guys are trying to work the speed equation but also work the cost equation on it. Right? So it’s a two-part question. First, how closely is the flight testing matching the modeling? Because you do the flight testing to match the modeling. So how closely is this airplane performing to the way you expected it to perform?
Mr. Snyder: In terms of performance, modeling of the aircraft flight, we’ll start there. It’s doing extremely well. And one thing I also want to mention is the agility in the [action]. That’s one thing that the Army always wanted to know and say hey, tilt rotors we know up and away, they’re very fast and efficient, but can it perform in [EX], and I think we’ve shown with its pirouetting and doing what it can down the runway, spinning and how fast it decels and accels, so we’re showing that agility.
And then as far as the cost affordability goes, you know, we modeled what we thought the thing would cost and we targeted it in the $30-$35 million range as the target cost. And as we have worked through the trade studies, as we time studied the aircraft build, what our supply chain is showing and you run the curves and analysis and we’re landing pretty close in that range of what we said it would cost.
Then as far as the maintainability/reliability, that has gone beyond our wildest dreams. When we designed this new [nacelle] and said hey, it’s got to be easy to get in and maintain and it’s got to be reliable and it’s showing everything. Throughout the 65 flight hours so far it’s doing exactly what we thought it would do.
Mr. Muradian: Thank you very much for bringing that second piece of the question in there. I was going to go in one direction and I said wait a minute, let me do that. And Bell also sponsors the Defense and Aerospace Report podcast, so everybody should listen. The Washington Roundtables every Friday; the Business Roundtables every Monday about world markets.
You know, one of the questions that has always existed is the mental, changing the mental model of the Army. The customer’s used to flying helicopters. Once upon a time there was a very strong cadre or Army officers who wanted the V-22, but that never really materialized. How is that education process going with Army aviators in this who have a tendency of thinking that any, that a helicopter should replace a helicopter, whereas you’re trying to show them hey, look, a tilt rotor could change how you guys do business. Right? Nobody has to convince the Marine Corps of that, but how is that Army education process going?
Mr. Snyder: I think hearing it from the Army leadership themselves this week has been fantastic. So when they come in now before, they’ve even said, you know, a year ago at the show you know, everybody says let’s see, they’ve flown the simulator. Yeah, it flies, the simulator flies well. But after this year of flying and seeing it in action, we’ve had comments from very senior Army leaders that hey, it’s flying like you said it would fly and it is very agile. And so now they’re starting to talk about yeah, this could be that aircraft, which we fully believe as well.
Mr. Muradian: Is there any message in the first capability set, though, is a 40×46 foot landing area. There are those who interpret that as a very clear message that the Army wants a helicopter for its next Scout. Is that a correct interpretation of that requirement as somehow limiting or excluding you guys?
Mr. Snyder: I don’t think so. I think what they’re saying is that’s the requirement. When they say that’s 40×40, we’re going to look at different technologies. As I said when I took away the helicopter name, you know, we invent flight and flight experiences. It doesn’t mean we don’t do helicopters as well. So you look at the innovations that we’ve got going on, we’ve got the requirements now for that [cape] set one, and we’re working on the design and we actually have a really cool concept that I think is going to meet all the requirements if not exceed them, and we’ll look forward to the Army seeing that later this year when we submit the proposal.
Mr. Muradian: And for anybody who doesn’t know Bell’s history, the Air Comet was the first jet, was a Bell jet, and the first supersonic aircraft was the Bell X-1, so it was a Larry Bell product as well.
Let’s talk about the 247. It was extraordinary to see it in model form, but it was really great to see it in modern day Marine. The unmanned multi-purpose tilt rotor that folds up to the size of a UH-1, a little bit, the UH-1’s got a little bit slimmer of a tail, right? But the footprint is roughly the same, and you can squeeze it into a garage of a DDG-51 as well.
Any Army interest in that platform? If you look at it, it can do so many different missions. Talk to us a little bit about perhaps the Army opportunity you see there, even though you guys are sort of targeting it for a Marine requirement.
Mr. Snyder: I think we are, again, the [MUCS] requirement was the program we were going after initially when we designed the 247. But as you said, as you start looking at Next Gen UAS requirements for the Army, we fit in the top end of that as well, if you look towards the Group 5, a larger UAS capability. And we believe, like you said, we’ve designed it to be very flexible and modular in its nature so that it can be multi-mission. In fact even the Marines wanted it to do six to seven different types of missions. So we believe that it can do those missions as well as the Army missions.
And the most important thing about that, though, we like to say, is we did the V-280. We went from a clean sheet to a flying aircraft and it’s flying fantastic in a very short period of time. So when you look at that mock-up, if you remember, we did this mock-up three or four years ago and said hey, we’re going to build that aircraft and have it fly. So now you’re looking at the mockup of the 247 and we’re saying hey, lowest risk, we know how to build it, and we’re going to make it fly in four to five years as we said for the Marine Corps. But we do believe there’s an Army requirement that we can fit out there.
Mr. Muradian: You can also look at this as an Air Force requirement or even a Navy requirement, right?
Mr. Snyder: Yeah, it’s multi-purpose. So it really comes down to what service is looking for what kind of unmanned capability. But if you want something that can take off vertically from anywhere and then fly 350 nautical miles, stay on station for 8-10 hours, all kinds of payload lift, so yeah, it can go to any service.
Mr. Muradian: Even a rescue mission. Right? You could put pods on the side of it and pick people up.
Mr. Snyder: We’ve actually talked to the United States Air Force about that for some sort of long-range personnel recovery in high threat environments. We could have side pods on the 247, fly it in, land it, have somebody climb in and get them out of there.
Mr. Muradian: Amazing.
Let me ask you about the cross-functional teams. Futures Command is the way of the future. Obviously I think the Army leadership has made clear about that. Whatever the debate was, it’s over, as the leadership has said, and we’re moving out with it. And you can see the advantage of having very experienced operators build the requirement and then be paired with acquisition folks who can help deliver it. We had a great conversation with General Gallagher who is the cross-functional team lead on networks and Dave Bassett who’s executing that as PEO C3T.
From the standpoint of a CEO, though, is there the kind of clarity you need in terms of how to interface with the customer, who’s doing what? Some folks have said that they would like a little bit more clarity. And even Secretary Esper told us, you know, look we’re working our way through the problems. But as somebody who Army is one of its most important customers, is there that clarity out of the new structure that you’d like?
Mr. Snyder: I think that Army’s doing the right thing in making it more clear. I think you see where they started off with saying hey, we’re going to modernize our forces. I think it was great this week when they said we want the modernization done by 2028, or in the works, right? We want to have a new modern Army by that time line. They’ve laid out the priorities, the six priorities. They’ve stood up a Futures Command. They’ve got the CFTs functioning. We’re starting to interact quite frequently now with those. And I think what we’ve continued to say is what you see behind us is the poster child for tremendous success for Army modernization. It had a five-year head start, it’s flying extremely well, let’s lay out the requirements and an accelerated acquisition process, and you will for sure have this on the ramp in 2028.
Mr. Muradian: Are you satisfied with the schedule they’re operating at? There was a concern in the vertical lift in industry — you see how I said vertical lift industry instead of helicopter — that it wouldn’t be moving fast enough. That these programs were too far in the future. Are you satisfied with the schedule and pace of everything that you’re seeing coming out of the service?
Mr. Snyder: Yes, where it’s at now, right? The Army has said this week we want it modernized by 2028. So you haven’t heard the 2030s anymore, they’re saying we need something in 2028, within 10 years. So now, what you mentioned earlier, the CFTs, they’re working on how do we accelerate these schedules? How do we get the budgets in place? And how do we make this come to fruition by 2028?
So the new schedules they’re starting to work with us on, and like I said, when you see what we’ve done — clean sheet to flying them by 2017, the amount of flights we have on the aircraft, this could quickly transition into a program that they could have that on the ramp by 2028. So I think the schedules are getting there.
Mr. Muradian: Let me ask you one last question. The White House last week issued its National Industrial Health Report Card. The President started that process in mid-2017. The Pentagon gave its feedback earlier this year in April, and now the final report’s come out to identify sort of points of failure in the national security industrial infrastructure.
You’ve got tens of thousands of suppliers around the world for your commercial and for your military products. What does this report mean for you and the stewardship and the investment you’re going to have to make in some of your suppliers to safeguard them and address some of the administration’s concerns?
Mr. Snyder: As you mentioned, it was a concern, and that was refreshing to have that come out so we can take a look at it. When we went through sequestration and the Budget Control Act, and when everything got clamped down, we were starting to worry about the industrial base. It’s not so much the OAMs. We’re finding our way through it in some of the first tier, but when you start getting to the lower tier supply base, you know, there’s some small businesses out there that are really starting to hurt. When you see the quantities of buy come down or the sustainment wasn’t being bought, where were they going to go?
I think what you see right now, now that the report’s been submitted, you’re going to see that the worry is true out there and we’ve got to work on it, but I think at the same time we’re real excited. Because like what’s going on here, a lot of the excitement here at the show is the Army wants to modernize, which means all brand-new equipment coming out and not just recapitalizing existing equipment, but brand-new equipment. So there’s a chance for new development out there, a lot of money flowing that way. So I think the supply base is excited as well.
Mr. Muradian: Mitch Snyder. President and CEO of Bell, a Textron company. Sir, thanks very much. Always a pleasure. Best of luck on the program, and best of luck at the fest of AUSA.
Mr. Snyder: Sounds good. Thank you, Vago.