Industry leaders in vertical lift technology agreed that budgetary limits and lack of efficiency in the acquisitions process is keeping USAF from deploying advanced technology. At ASC16, Keith Flail, vice president for military business development at Bell Helicopter Textron, Inc., described a “fiscally constrained environment” where industry contractors are employing “design for affordability” in order to meet Air Force requirements. Samir Mehta, president for defense systems and services at Sikorsky, drew attention to autonomous aircraft with vertical lift. “The capability exists,” Mehta said. “It’s a matter of trusting the technology.” It’s also a matter of profits, he and the other panelists made clear. When acquisitions take decades, industry partners assume heightened risk of programs getting sidetracked or cancelled, turning research and development investments into significant losses. “We need a quicker acquisitions cycle,” Mehta said. Industry also needs flexible, innovative models, Mehta said. As an example, he pointed to the current Sikorsky project of adapting divested Blackhawk helicopters as autonomous cargo aircraft as a way of reducing casualties related to land cargo transportation.
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