NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The U.S. Army is predicting a nearly two-year delay getting its next-generation engine into UH-60 Black Hawk utility helicopters, the first aircraft in the fleet to receive the capability.
GE Aerospace’s T901 engine will replace the 1970s-era T700 in both the Army’s Black Hawk and Apache helicopters, and it is the engine of choice for its Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft.
Because of problems with the supply chain during the coronavirus pandemic and issues with advanced manufacturing of new parts, the Improved Turbine Engine Program experienced delays in the process of building the first engines.
Maj. Gen. Robert Barrie, the Program Executive Officer for Army Aviation said at the Army Aviation Association of America’s annual conference that the first engine has completed testing and a second engine is now in a test cell.
“We are making progress,” he said.
Yet the struggles with the developmental engine has set back both the program to install ITEP engines into two competitive FARA prototypes and the plan to swap out the old engines in UH-60s and AH-64 Apache attack helicopters.
According to the Army’s fiscal 2024 budget documents when compared with its FY23 books, the plan to enter low-rate production slipped by almost two years from the first quarter of FY25 to the third quarter of FY26.
The Army plans to enter full-rate production in the third quarter of FY28. Its plans a year ago was to achieve that milestone in the first quarter of FY27. And the Army won’t reach initial operational capability with ITEP in UH-60s until the fourth quarter of FY27.
“Like any new development, there have been challenges,” Barrie said. “The difference on the schedule that we have now, that we have re-baselined, is we now have some margin in that schedule, which would be more applicable to a normal development schedule.”
The service is expecting to receive two engines from GE Aerospace for the FARA prototypes in October and the service is focused on the integration into the future aircraft, according to Barrie.
The Army was expected to receive the ITEP engine by the end of 2022 in order to deliver to the two FARA teams. The delay sets back the flight test program for FARA to the fourth quarter of FY24.
Integration on UH-60 Black Hawk will begin once things get moving with the FARA effort, Barrie said. The Apache integration will begin later.
“You have a developmental program and a developmental engine and we made that decision consciously for all the right reasons,” Maj. Gen. Mac McCurry, the Army Aviation Center of Excellence commander, said during a press briefing with Barrie at AAAA. “Having three aircraft that have commonality in an engine does big things for us.”
Yet, he added, “we knew that was hard … work. We’re still committed to doing it.”
Sikorsky’s president, Paul Lemmo, told Defense News in an interview at AAAA that the company is on time and ready for the Black Hawk to receive the ITEP engine, and said the Army is expected to deliver engines for the aircraft in the middle of next year.
“FARA prototypes for both competitors are the priority,” for ITEP, Lemmo said, “Black Hawk is the second priority and so we’re ready to go. It’s kind of the cornerstone of what we see for Black Hawk modernization.”
Compared to its predecessor, the T901′s 50% power increase will restore aircraft performance, and its 25% improved fuel consumption reduces energy usage and carbon emissions. The engine is also expected to have more durable components, which will lower life-cycle costs.
There is still hope the Army could make up some lost time in the schedule, Barrie added. Previously, “we did not have any slack in our schedule and that is no way to manage a developmental program,” he said. “So the schedule ... does have adequate margin ... acknowledging that it is a developmental program and there will undoubtedly be additional risk.”
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.