WASHINGTON — The Army’s Improved Turbine Engine Program is facing a “critical” stretch which will determine whether testing on the engine will occur on time or be delayed, thanks to challenges related to the COVID-19 pandemic, a pair of Army officials said Wednesday.

Patrick Mason, the program executive officer for Army aviation, and Brig. Gen. Walter Rugen, the director for future vertical lift inside Army Futures Command, said that the service has finished its component critical design review (CDR) process, and has moved on to its full program CDR, a key milestone before moving into testing.

However, “given COVID and all of the factors that have gone on with COVID,” the plan to have the full CDR done during second quarter has been pushed to third quarter, Mason said at an event hosted by the Heritage Foundation.

ITEP is “the number one watch item we've had across the future vertical lift portfolio for COVID impacts,” Mason said, because “hardware needs to be coming in the latter part of this year so we can test at the component level, assemble into the engine, and then go to first engine test.”

“So that's going to be critical over the next month to two months, to see where we stand on hardware deliveries with that, and then whether or not we will reach first engine test at the time that we had originally stated,” he said, noting the plan is for engine tests to proceed in 2021.

Mason also noted that the delay is less dramatic than it may seem, because the original plan for ITEP called for the full CDR to be completed in the fourth quarter of this year; the Army felt it was ahead of schedule enough to shift that target to second quarter, until COVID caused the delay. In other words, CDR being completed in Q3 still means the program is ahead of its original baseline.

General Electric Aviation won the $517 million award for the engineering, manufacturing and development phase in February 2019. The requirements included developing a 3,000 shaft horsepower engine that reduces fuel consumption by 25 percent and increases service life by 20 percent compared to the legacy T700 currently used in the Army’s AH-64 Apache and UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters.

In addition to replacing the engines on those two leacy platforms, ITEP is expected to power the Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft, or FARA design. For the heavier future rotorcraft known as the Future Long-Range Assault Aircraft, or FLRAA, the Army is looking at a heavier engine design, although the companies competing for the design will have the ability to pick their own engine designs as part of their pitches.

“We really think the efficiencies there with a two engines strategy across all of Army aviation’s tactical fleet would be a powerful way to go at both readiness and affordability concerns,” said Rugen.

Aaron Mehta was deputy editor and senior Pentagon correspondent for Defense News, covering policy, strategy and acquisition at the highest levels of the Defense Department and its international partners.

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