WASHINGTON — The Army has validated its design for its future helicopter engine, and the program remains on schedule to deliver the first engine for testing in the fourth quarter of fiscal 2021, according to service officials in charge of the effort.

The Improved Engine Turbine Program (ITEP) has seen a long — and often delayed — journey as the service wrestled with funding and development strategies for several years. ITEP will replace current engines in both UH-60 Black Hawk utility helicopters and AH-64 Apache attack helicopters

Since awarding a contract to General Electric Aviation in February 2019, the program has pushed forward on schedule, despite a protest from a competing team comprised of Honeywell and Pratt & Whitney, which paused work for roughly three months.

And, while the Coronavirus pandemic caused some anxiety among Army officials trying to keep the program on track, those in charge were able to complete the critical design review, conducted 100 percent virtually, according to Army spokesman David Hylton.

The ITEP Critical Design Review (CDR) was a multi-month process that consisted of three phases, Hylton told Defense News in a written statement. The engine control system component CDR was completed on June 5, followed by the software CDR on July 17 and the engine systems CDR on July 24, he said.

The Army and GE are making “tremendous efforts to keep COVID-19 impacts from delaying the program,” Hylton wrote.

GE is now working toward a test readiness review ahead of the first engine test.

“We are full steam ahead in terms of understanding where we need to go next with respect to the design, Col. Gregory Fortier, who is in charge of the program office for the Army’s Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft, said during a media briefing last month.

The Army has “no reason to believe we will not fly” in fiscal 2023, he said.

According to FY21 Army budget request justification documents, the service plans to fly an aircraft with an ITEP engine installed in the first quarter of FY23 followed by a low-rate initial production decision in the fourth quarter of FY24.

A full-rate production decision is expected in FY26.