By Bijan Razzaghi
The Lockheed Martin/Sikorsky S-97 Raider has been approved for continued flight testing and is set to be evaluated for a wide range of roles, including Scout, Attack and Special Operations. The S-97 Raider uses pusher propeller technology in conjunction with a coaxial rotor system. This design allows the S-97 to fly at speeds as fast as 276 mph and operate at high altitudes out of the range of small ares fire. The S-97 was originally born out of the requirement for Armed Aerial Scout program to replace the OH-58D Kiowa Warrior. The Apache Guardian was chosen for the role. Despite this the military still has interest in the S-97 and it is possible it can provide the Army with similar capabilities to the canceled Comanche.
The S-97 for now planned to be capable of deploying Hydra Rockets and 5- cal machine guns but its possible mini guns and AGM-114 Hellfire’s will be added. The S-97 will not have the payload of the Apache or canceled Comanche yet it will still be able to function in the anti tank and close air support roles. S-97s would be able to support the Apache or conduct similar missions in environments where the Apache might be vulnerable.
For Special Operations missions the S-97 can transport 6 troops. This could allow S-97s to deploy Special Operations Teams into enemy territory and in dense urban areas. The S-97 can replace the MH-6 Little Bird in this role. S-97s can also function in the CSAR and MEDIVAC roles.
It is unclear when the US or if the Defense Department will purchase the S-97 but it is likely the aircraft will be able to fill these roles if required. The Army is rapidly trying to modernize its rotor fleet with high speed rotorcraft such as the S-97 as well as the conceptional SB-1 Defiant. The S-97 will likely be offered if an RFI is released.