WASHINGTON — The Army has accepted the first of its long-delayed next-generation engine, which is set to power the U.S. Army’s Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft as well as AH-64 Apache and UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters, the service announced Oct. 4.
The second T901 engine for the Improved Turbine Engine Program is still going through the acceptance process and will be delivered to the two companies competitively building FARA prototypes by the end of October.
“We’ll see some delivery of engines here in the next 30 days,” Brig. Gen. Phillip Baker, who is in charge of the service’s future vertical lift modernization efforts, told Defense News in an interview ahead of the Association of the U.S. Army’s annual conference, which runs Oct. 9-11. “That will allow us to move forward, and in ’24 we will get to ground runs and some limited flight.”
General Electric Aerospace, which is developing the next-generation engine through the ITEP effort, wants to recover from issues that first arose as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, causing nearly a year delay for the FARA competitive prototyping program.
GE not only ran into problems with sub-suppliers, but also “had a brain drain” with the exit of experienced quality-control managers, engineers and other technical employees during that time, the former Future Vertical Lift Cross-Functional Team director, Maj. Gen. Wally Rugen, said earlier this year.
The original plan was to execute a first flight for each FARA prototype aircraft in late 2023; now a first flight is not expected until the fourth quarter of fiscal 2024, according to Baker.
Both competitors — Textron’s Bell and Lockheed Martin’s Sikorsky — have built the aircraft and are awaiting the arrival of the ITEP engines by the end of October, they told Defense News.
Lockheed’s Raider X, its prototype for the FARA competition, is “98% complete,” Jay Macklin, Sikorsky’s business development director, said in an interview.
As soon as the company receives the ITEP engine, he explained, “we’re going to immediately start that installation process in advance of flights.”
Bell’s FARA program director, Chris Gehler, told Defense News the company hopes to begin ground testing for its 360 Invictus in early 2024, “but maybe as early as the end of this year.”
Meanwhile, both teams have moved through systems requirements review. Requirements are not yet set in stone, but Army officials have said the service is close to finalizing them.
The industry teams have also been working toward weapon system preliminary design reviews.
To ensure both teams are compliant with the Army’s modular open-system architecture, the service has passed them through a round of verification demonstrations. More demonstrations will take place in the coming year.
The Army plans to complete engineering and manufacturing development for ITEP in the third quarter of FY26, according to FY24 budget documents, and won’t reach initial operational capability until the third quarter of FY29, an almost two-year delay from the timeline in FY23 budget documents.
Jen Judson is an award-winning journalist covering land warfare for Defense News. She has also worked for Politico and Inside Defense. She holds a Master of Science degree in journalism from Boston University and a Bachelor of Arts degree from Kenyon College.