Center for Strategic Decision Research


Vertical-Lift Capability and Homeland Defense

Dott. Ing. Giuseppe Orsi
Managing Director, Marketing and Sales, Agusta Westland NV


How can the rotorcraft industry help in the war against terrorism and do it through international collaboration? I am pleased to offer a view on this subject and will try to assess the elements of homeland defense as well as suggest areas in which vertical-lift capability could be useful. September 11, 2001 is the date on which our century-long view of national security ended. At the dawn of the 21 st century we did not foresee the emergence of asymmetric opponents: small groups of loosely organized individuals who were willing and able to use our own culture, technology, and infrastructure against us. These groups, working outside the constructs of modern civilization, are prepared to kill as many civilians as possible, as well as sacrifice their own lives. Although we have faced fanatical anarchists in the past, we have never seen a menace on this scale before. The threat is real, present, and appears to be here to stay. 

Our natural response to this threat has been a universal call for unprecedented international cooperation to defeat terrorism wherever it may reside. That cooperation is meant to be broad and far reaching, and to encompass all possible avenues of influence, including the exploitation of the latest technology of which the VTOL aircraft is a significant example. Our response, for both today and the future, requires that we employ current and emerging technologies within a comprehensive strategy of planning, preparation, and vigilance. 


The twin characteristics of Western life-societal openness and individual privacy-render the Western countries vulnerable to terrorism of catastrophic proportions, which can be launched at any time, at any place, with a wide variety of weapons. Defending a territory as large and as open as the United States or Europe raises profound issues of scale. It is remarkably easy to enter the U.S. or Europe and, once inside, potential terrorists can find what they must consider "target rich" opportunities, such as: 

  • densely packed population centers; 
  • a large concentration of tall buildings and structures; 
  • numerous historic and tourist sites; 
  • easily accessed transportation infrastructures; 
  • extensive, hard-to-defend coastlines and borders; 
  • an open press that would give wide audience to terrorist actions. 

President Bush has sounded a new call for American homeland defense. We in Europe, having endured decades of various forms of terrorism, have heard this call before, and have now redoubled our efforts in its behalf. We are all resolved to reduce our vulnerability to future attacks. 

There are four key initiatives necessary for homeland defense: 

  • support for the first responders, including firefighters and police; 
  • defense against mass terrorism; 
  • secure borders; and 
  • using 21st-century technology to accomplish these goals. 

It is this last point that I will discuss here. 


There are six categories of activities that relate to a coordinated Homeland Defense Plan: 

  • deterrence, 
  • prevention, 
  • crisis management, 
  • response and recovery, 
  • public health support, 
  • retaliation. 

To determine the potential roles and missions for vertical-lift technology in these areas, we need to first ask, Why? What makes vertical-lift capability unique and useful? 

A brief review of the helicopter's past may help in answering these questions. The global helicopter-manufacturing community has historically developed its products in response to military requirements. Its early days saw products relatively simple in design and limited in capability. But as the military first incorporated the helicopter's unique flight characteristics and then fully recognized the aircraft's potential, product capability grew rapidly and soon redefined how modern militaries operate. More specifically, those nations with an existing airplane industry rapidly developed indigenous helicopter-manufacturing capabilities to provide their armed forces with rotary-wing assets. Today it is hard to imagine how a modern military could effectively operate without having helicopters as a core component. The helicopter's force-multiplier effect is now globally recognized. 

The helicopter's capabilities also apply to homeland defense, and there are several reasons to quickly employ helicopters and tilt-rotors in homeland defense planning. The four most important are: 

First, rotorcraft can operate from just about anywhere. Complicated and dedicated facilities are not needed. Temporary helipads can be established close to possible response points, reducing dependence on support infrastructure, enhancing flexibility, and making operations more efficient. 

Second, rotorcraft, and in particular helicopters, can fly directly to the response point and, once there, take up position in an extended hover. This allows appropriate personnel to examine the situation from different perspectives: into, across, and up, as opposed to just looking down as satellites can do. Rotocraft also enable a direct action based on instant assessment. 

Third, rotorcraft provide a stable platform from which to conduct missions

Fourth, rotorcraft enable the soft delivery and evaluation of personnel and payload at the point of response. 

Vertical-lift capability can be key in many ways. Some of these are: 

  • surveillance-before, during, and after terrorist activity; 
  • command and control-coordinating ground, air, and sea activities; 
  • vulnerability assessment-determining possible targets for defensive; 
  • pro-action; 
  • medivac-rapidly removing casualties for medical treatment; 
  • fire fighting; 
  • logistics support; 
  • tactical insertion of response teams; 
  • border and harbor patrolling; 
  • interdiction of terrorists before they create havoc; 
  • real-time data collection; 
  • nuclear, biological, and chemical (NBC) control. 

It is vitally important that we focus attention on emerging technologies that can improve our abilities to perform these tasks in aid of homeland defense. In the meantime, it is important to improve, increase, and enhance current rotorcraft capabilities. 


We must consider stepping up evolutionary and revolutionary research efforts for both platform improvements and systems improvements. We are already developing new-technology aircraft such as tilt-rotors, quad tilt-rotors, canard wings, and compound helicopters though it will be several more years until they approach operational maturity. Other intriguing technologies deserve further research attention to increase speed, range, and operational effectiveness. These include noise abatement, downwash reduction, unconventional lift generation, unlimited hover capability, taking off and landing in either helicopter or airplane mode, and stealth technology. Developing these technologies in a reasonable time will require a continuing strong partnership between government and industry, since industry alone cannot provide the funds and the resources. 


There are several emerging vertical-lift technologies that should be of great interest to homeland defense. International collaboration would expedite the delivery of those that are already in our blackboard and experimental department. 

Tilt-rotor Technology

Tilt-rotor technology is the most significant advance in the vertical-lift field. It allows true breakthroughs in speed, payload, stealth, and all-weather capabilities. In Europe, a joint helicopter effort known as ERICA is now producing the next generation of tilt-rotor aircraft, and AgustaWestand is playing a lead role. It is important to note that while we await the introduction of first-generation tilt-rotor technology to the market, it is not odd for manufacturers to be developing the next step in the evolution. ERICA is such a program. The technology is tilt-rotor in concept, allowing vertical take-off and landing along with high cruising speed. But there are also significant differences in architecture that will allow higher cruise speeds, significantly greater hovering performance for stand-off observation enhancement and weapons deployment, lower external noise for more stealthy ingress and egress to operational situations, higher payloads, and take-off and landing capability in airplane mode-all attributes of critical importance to homeland security's full exploitation of vertical-lift forces. 

Compound Helicopter Technology

In addition to tilt rotors, compound helicopters continue to generate interest, particularly in the U.S. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the term, a compound helicopter is a traditional helicopter that has been fitted with extra propulsion and/or wing to increase its speed. Compound helicopter demonstration technology has received U.S. Navy R&D funding, and these helicopters could possibly develop speeds approaching those of tilt rotors. 

Unmanned Rotorcraft Technology

Another vertical-lift technology we are pursuing is the unmanned rotorcraft. UAVs have been successful in Afghanistan, and there may be use for unmanned rotorcraft there as well. 

There are real advantages to the unmanned rotorcraft. Their use eliminates risks to humans; in the case of NBC contamination, they could enter areas that would prove dangerous to people. They also don't tire and are impervious to emotional reactions such as those experienced by the first responders to the September 11 disasters. Their maximum take-off weight would be lower than manned aircraft and, along with other technologies we are developing, lower weight would directly translate into lower external noise. The rotorcraft industry has the technical capabilities to design and develop URCs today. 

Our aeronautical abilities, however, need to be coupled with mission equipment that helps our front-line responders do their jobs efficiently and safely. Enhanced sensors, data links, communications, and data assessment technologies need continuing and increased investment by both industry and government. 


As you can see from the previous information, we believe that the rotorcraft's flexibility and adaptability can be important to homeland defense. Our security agencies need multi-role VTOL aircraft that can be quickly adapted to changing scenarios and fitted as transport one day and as a flying surveillance platform the next. To be effective, these aircraft need range, endurance, and the ability to operate in potentially hostile environments. They need to be equipped with NBC detection and protection technology. And they need to be thought of under a new definition of "dual use": investing in expensive technology that can be used on a day-to-day basis for specific duties while improving general capabilities in an emergency situation. 

But the latest and future technologies will not be sufficient if there is no plan to use them. 

The events of September 11 have shown that governments are not prepared for the next crisis. We need to establish better command-and-control structures to deal with the uncertainties of disasters. Doctrines and procedures for command and control and interoperability of military and civil assets need to be established for domestic and international actions. Simulated as well as real-time training needs to be made part of homeland defense doctrine. For example, there are over 11,500 registered civil helicopters in the U.S. and several thousand in Europe, many of which could be used in time of emergency. Civil protection agencies should assume a larger role and become capable in an emergency of coordinating equipment and activities usually managed by private organizations or citizens. 


I believe that governments, through the effective exploitation and fostering of greater international cooperation, should support and speed the development of new technologies and procedures that directly and immediately respond to homeland defense requirements. It is also important that we construct a "two-way street" between the United States and Europe. After September 11, the distance between us has largely vanished. I now urge the U.S. government to begin true collaboration with Europe. This means reducing governmental impediments to technology transfers and the creation of what I call a "technology-free trade zone," so that companies can collaborate more effectively. 

In my opinion, joint technology development is as important to defeating terrorism as joint military operations. We need to find new relationships between industry, civil society, and governments based upon teamwork and partnership. Industry alone cannot succeed. 

In closing, I turn to the observations of a wise man, Jean Jacques Rousseau, who once said, "There are two things to be considered with regard to any scheme. In the first place, 'Is it good in itself?' In the second, 'Can it be easily put into practice?'" In the case of homeland security, the answer to the first question is yes, and to the second, maybe. It is up to all of us, in industry and in government, to make it so. And possibly to do so now! 


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