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Army Taps Firms to Design New Engines for Apaches, Black Hawks

The U.S. Army has awarded contracts to companies tasked with designing new engines for its fleet of AH-64 Apache attack helicopters and UH-60 Black Hawk utility choppers.

The service on Monday issued a pair of agreements totaling more than a quarter-billion dollars as part of the acquisition effort, including a $154 million deal with Advanced Turbine Engine Co. -- a joint venture of Honeywell International Inc. and United Technologies Corp.'s Pratt & Whitney unit -- and a $102 million contract with General Electric Co.

The funding is for "a preliminary design review for a new technology centerline improved turbine engine" to replace the existing T700 on the rotorcraft fleets, according to the contract announcements.

Don't be fooled by the dry language in the announcement. This is the U.S. military's biggest rotorcraft engine program in years and potentially worth $10 billion to the company selected for the final design. The future engine will be installed in 2,135 Black Hawks made by Lockheed Martin Corp.'s Sikorsky unit and 684 Apaches made by Boeing Co.

While GE says its existing T700 is made to be rugged and reliable, the competitors say the propulsion system uses too much fuel and is underpowered in high and hot conditions.

The Army wants the new engine to be 50 percent more powerful and 25 percent more fuel efficient, with a 20 percent longer life -- while also meeting performance goals at 6,000 feet in altitude and 95 degrees Fahrenheit.

For the engine replacement program, officially called the Improved Turbine Engine Program, GE is offering its single-spool GE3000 turboshaft, while Honeywell and UTC's Pratt & Whitney are competing with their dual-spool HPW30000.

With two rotating turbine-compressor assemblies instead of one, Honeywell and Pratt & Whitney argue their propulsion system "delivers better dependability, greater fuel efficiency, more power to grow and lower cost over the life of the engine compared to single-spool designs currently in use," according to their website.

Meanwhile, GE is touting its design as "the power of simplicity," with quicker maintenance times and field serviceability resulting in faster turnarounds and more missions, as well as "lower integration risk and cost."

The service is expected to select a winner in 2018.

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