WASHINGTON — The US Army's effort to improve the operational capabilities of its rotorcraft fleet through the Improved Turbine Engine Program (ITEP) is heading for preliminary design requests in May as it aims for a 2023 production goal.

The US Army's Improved Turbine Engine Program (ITEP) to develop a next-generation engine for Black Hawk and Apache helicopters has advanced out of science and technology development to the preliminary design phase.

After the May requests, The Army is expected to issue a final request for proposals in May for the preliminary design phase and award contracts are expected to be awarded to the two competitors in March 2016, the Army timeline has a request for proposals issued for the engineering and manufacturing design phase in early 2017, and a downselect to one of two competitors in 2018 before beginning and low-rate production. in 2023.

Advanced Turbine Engine Co. (ATEC), a 50-50 joint venture of Pratt & Whitney and Honeywell, is competing with GE Aviation to develop a drop-in replacement for the legacy GE T700 engines that power the Boeing AH-64 Apache and Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk fleets. The engine is also expected to power light rotary-winged aircraft expected to emerge from the service's nascent Future Vertical Lift (FVL) program, according to Jerry Wheeler, vice president of programs at ATEC.

The president's 2016 budget request would fund ITEP at $51 million and anticipates a total development cost of $720 million. The budget anticipates the first engine to test and the start of begins physical airframe integration in fiscal 2021.

Aviation and Missile Command's chief, Maj. Gen. Jim Richardson, recently highlighted the engine's potential to allow the Apache and Black Hawk to, "carry more armament and more troops further and more efficiently."

"The ITEP will allow our future aircraft to operate with more flexibility while increasing effectiveness on the battlefield. ITEP, when paired with FVL aircraft, provide us the opportunity to see the future of Army aviation," Richardson told Army Technology magazine.

Maj. Gen. Michael D. Lundy, commander of the Army's Aviation Center of Excellence, said ITEP was among Army Aviation's modernization priorities.

"We certainly need to continue to have advanced engines that save us fuel and increase our efficiency, and ITEP is going to do that," he told a defense industry audience at a January conference here.

The Army must still conduct an analysis of alternatives and seek approval from the Joint Requirements Oversight Council.

The service has set target goals of 50 percent more power and 25 percent better more fuel efficiency than the older engines to improve capability, in the field, particularly in the "high and hot" environments, in regions such as Iraq or Afghanistan. ITEP would be a 3,000 horsepower engine and the T700 is a 2,000 horsepower engine.

GE and ATEC both reported in October that they had successfully completed a sand ingestion test, one of three required earlier in the program.

"Both we and our customer recognize that the S&T program is done, and the critical technologies have been pronounced at the appropriate readiness level, and validated for the Army that their goals are achievable," said Jerry Wheeler, vice president of programs at ATEC, said in at a press conference here March 18.

In an Army-produced scenario for a 130-soldier, 225-kilometer air assault mission, ITEP-equipped helicopters would need 75 percent less fuel than with a T700 and complete the mission in 77 percent less time — 3,973 gallons versus 15,862 gallons and 129 minutes versus 573 minutes.

"With the ITEP engine, you eliminate the need to stop and refuel en route."said Jerry Wheeler said, vice president of programs at ATEC. "When you eliminate the need for forward area refueling points, you have an ancillary savings in terms of cost and equipment, and in some cases, loss of life."

ATEC's own analysis found that an ITEP engine could save Apache crews from trade-offs among between radar, fuel or munitions because of payload limitations — all justifications for the program in the tight budget environment, Wheeler said.

Though the engine was envisioned for high-hot environments, which fueled the sand ingestion tests, later preflight tests are expected to include salt and corrosion tests, relevant to the Army's shift toward the Pacific.

"We designed to that up front, and there are requirements documents that relate to that," Wheeler said.

Wheeler expressed confidence other markets exist for its HPW3000 and said it would work on the commercial side, on and a the Air Force's C combat R rescue H helicopter or a new Marine One presidential helicopter, and he said that ATEC has reached out to Sikorky.

"I believe that if there is a new turboshaft engine that exists in the 3000 clajess, with a 25 percent improvement in fuel consumption, it's very possible that it's going to get the attention of some of [manufacturers]," Wheeler said.

In a statement, GE Aviation's advanced turboshaft program manager, Mike Sousa, touted the company as having "the industry's largest portfolio of development programs in both the military and commercial jet engine sectors."

GE is offering developing technologies for its engine and plans to continue to run tests throughout the year to prove them out. Among them, GE would incorporate advanced high-temperature ceramic matrix composite components it plans to introduce on the commercial side next year.

Among other GE facilities to aid the GE3000 effort, the company is opening a research and development R&D center for additive manufacturing, or 3D printing, in Cincinnati later this year.

GE is using additive manufacturing to produce the advanced interior of the fuel nozzle for the LEAP engine, being developed by GE and Snecma of France.

GE also continues performance on the Future Affordable Turbine Engine program and the Advanced Affordable Turbine Engine program, which are expected to feed into ITEP efforts.

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