U.S. Military’s Largest Helicopter Engine Procurement Gets Under Way
Top aerospace firms are gearing up to compete in a high-stakes program to produce nearly 3,000 engines for Army helicopters.
“It will be the largest engine program in the Department of Defense,” said Craig Madden, president of the Advanced Turbine Engine Co., a joint venture of Honeywell and Pratt & Whitney.
The company will be challenging the Army’s incumbent engine supplier GE Aviation in the so-called “improved turbine engine program,” or ITEP.
The Army is expected to budget more than $500 million for development and engineering of the new engine over the next five years. The selected manufacturer would begin production in 2019.
The Army said it plans to buy about 2,135 ITEP engines for the Black Hawk utility helicopter made by Sikorsky. Nearly 700 would be produced for the Apache attack helicopter, made by The Boeing Co. The 3000 shaft horsepower ITEP engines would be a significant upgrade compared to the 2000 shaft horsepower T701D engines that power the latest Black Hawk and Apache models.
The Army has billed the ITEP program as a centerpiece of its aviation strategy. “This is Army aviation’s number one modernization program,” said Lt. Col. Curt Kuetemeyer, product manager for ITEP. With limited funding in the foreseeable future to buy new helicopters, the Army has chosen to hedge its bet on a new engine that would make current choppers more fuel-efficient, give them longer duration and additional power to carry extra weight.
“More engine power to the Black Hawk and the Apache means farther range, more time on the objective … all resulting in a more lethal, more effective mission,” he told reporters Sept. 28 in a conference call.
The Army published a draft request for proposals in December and the final RFP was released Sept. 24. Vendor proposals are due Nov. 9. The Army will award up to two 24-month contracts for the preliminary design of the new engine. By the end of the fourth quarter of fiscal year 2018, the plan is to eliminate one vendor and the winner would continue on with the engineering, manufacturing and design phase, Kuetemeyer said.
Army officials said the ITEP engine will be more advanced and consume less fuel than the current General Electric T700 engine that was fielded in the 1970s and upgraded over the years.
“We estimated savings of $1 billion in fuel and maintenance for the Army,” Madden told reporters Sept. 28 at Honeywell’s DC office.
The new engine is required to fly at 6,000 feet in temperatures up to 95 degrees Fahrenheit. During the war in Afghanistan, the T700’s performance in hot conditions was severely degraded and would require aircraft to be flown with less crew and equipment.
Rich Kretzschmar, ITEP’s program manager, said feedback from soldiers over a decade of war compelled the Army to seek an improved engine — not just for use in deserts — but in any region of the world.
For the Army, the stakes are high because ITEP could be the first major program in years to transition successfully from research to development and production. It also is viewed as a test case for how aggressive industry competition can help the Army get what it wants at reasonable prices. Before it became ITEP, the program was known as the “advanced affordable engine.”
“We do expect healthy competition and hopefully that keeps the price reasonable for the taxpayer and also healthy competition hopefully gets us more refined or more competitive proposals,” said Kuetemeyer.
ITEP competitors — which have huge commercial engine businesses — are motivated to win this program because of the prestige associated with supplying an engine to the Army and because the government is committed to funding the entire development.
GE Aviation is expected to propose a new design to replace the latest version of the T700. Honeywell joined forces with Pratt & Whitney in 2006 in anticipation of the Army’s engine program. Madden said the ATEC joint venture will make a big play to win the business from GE. The company has spent years testing engine prototypes and working with airframe manufacturers Sikorsky and Boeing to learn the ins and outs of the aircraft. The Army requires that the new engines fit in the same space as the older ones. “We can’t grow it. That is a big challenge.”
Whoever loses ITEP could still have opportunities to bid for new engine procurements after 2030 when the Army is expected to begin acquiring new helicopters under an umbrella program called “future vertical lift.”
The improved turbine engine will be “available for future vertical lift, but the requirements for future vertical lift have not been finalized,” said Kuetemeyer.
Madden said the 3000 shaft horsepower ITEP would probably work for future light helicopters but a bigger engine would be needed for medium and heavy lift airframes. “Either competitor in ITEP still has opportunities in future vertical lift,” Madden said. “It could be either a 3000 horsepower or a larger version. And the technology can spin into other engines.” The ATEC engine, he said, could be scaled up to 4500 horsepower.
Kuetemeyer said the current budget standoff on Capitol Hill affecting the entire federal government should not hurt the ITEP program. “In the short term, second order effects may eventually affect us if we have a longer term shut down or if … this lasts a while and other priorities are more important to the Army,” he said. “Right now, no, it won’t have a direct impact.”