WASHINGTON - The two teams deeply involved over many years in developing concepts for the Army's replacement engine for an enormous portion of the service's helicopters have been awarded contracts to submit a preliminary design for the new technology, according to a Defense Department contract announcement Monday.

The Army had planned to make an award late this summer to up to two vendors to design the Improved Turbine Engine Program (ITEP) engines. The service will then choose one engine design in 2018 to continue into the engineering and manufacturing development phase.

The Advanced Turbine Engine Co.  — a Honeywell and Pratt & Whitney team — was awarded a $154 million contract while GE Aviation was awarded $102 million. The work under the contracts is expected to take two years, ending in August 2018, according to the DoD announcement.

ITEP will replace the engine in roughly 3,000 UH-60 Black Hawk and AH-64 Apache helicopters with a more powerful and fuel-efficient one. The Army anticipates a total development cost of $720 million.

It’s been a long road to get to the preliminary design phase. Army leaders stressed the engine replacement was its No. 1 priority, but after it wrapped up the science-and-technology phase, the service made little public progress toward the program’s inception for well over a year.

The two teams both developed engine concepts in the Army’s science and technology effort leading up to the ITEP program of record.

The Army’s new engine will be designed to save 25 percent on fuel consumption at 3,000-shaft horsepower, as well as boost the horsepower-to-weight ratio by 65 percent and engine-design life by 20 percent.

ATEC is taking its experience developing engines for a variety of Army platforms and applying it to its ITEP design - the HPW3000 turboshaft engine - that it believes could save the Army $1 billion a year in fuel and maintenance costs.

GE Aviation, which makes the legacy engine in Black Hawks and Apaches, planned to submit its GE3000 engine to the ITEP preliminary design competition.