LONDON — The U.S. Army is on track to award a contract to one of two teams currently developing a future helicopter engine late next year.

The Army awarded contracts to two separate teams to design future engines to replace an enormous portion of the service’s helicopters under the Improved Turbine Engine Program, or ITEP.

The Advanced Turbine Engine Company — a Honeywell and Pratt & Whitney team — was awarded a $154 million contract while GE Aviation was awarded a $102 million contract in August 2016.

Future helos: Army calls for industry to push the envelope

Dan Bailey, the program manager for the U.S. Army's Joint-Multi Role/Future Vertical Lift effort, offers an update on one of the most anticipated programs for the Army, and what the service will watch for as industry preps for demonstrations.

The two teams were both deeply involved over many years in developing concepts at the science and technology level to replace the engines in UH-60 Black Hawks and AH-64 Apaches.

The Army has already moved through the systems requirements review and systems function review process, according to Joe Clegg, the ITEP and future vertical lift chief business management division program manager.

The program almost came to a screeching halt earlier this year due to a congressionally mandated continuing resolution, but Congress passed a budget and lifted the CR just in time.

“If all goes well, the [program design review] will take place after the first of the year [2018] between January and March,” Clegg said at DSEI, a defense conference in London, England, on Monday.

A source selection board will then work through a decision, which takes the program to a contract award to build the engine — in the November 2018 time frame — to only one of the teams, Clegg said.

While the Army is planning to downselect at the end of the 2018 calendar year, Clegg noted that the service would ideally have kept both teams developing engines through the engineering and manufacturing development phase, with a downselect at the production phase due to start around 2024.

But “the problem is the cost,” Clegg said. “The more you keep vendors on, the more you are doubling the cost to award that.”

Clegg added that the expectation is for the ITEP engine to reach initial operational capability around 2027.

Yet, “the Army is driving us to do it faster, do it quicker, and, if we can, we will get it there,” Clegg said. “The big thing is the testing because, again, if you are getting a paper design of an engine next year, you are having to build the engine, build it more than just for testing,” which he added is “not an easy thing to do.”