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Contractors clamoring for helo engine program that might not ever exist

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The US Army is in an interesting position with two of its marquee helicopters. Adventures in Afghanistan and Iraq have revealed that the AH-64 Apache and UH-60 Blackhawk could seriously benefit from more power than their twin General Electric engines can provide. Yet, neither chopper is getting any younger.

That presents a conundrum fro both the military and the defense industry, as a trio of contractors – General Electric and the partnership of Honeywell and Pratt and Whitney – are developing a replacement for the GE T700 in the hopes of an as-yet-unannounced, unconfirmed, multi-billion-dollar procurement program. According to Defense One, GE kicked off its replacement program back in 2007, while the Honeywell/Pratt pairing has widely touted positive tests of its development engine.

This, though, may all be for naught. Along with the CH-53 Chinook cargo chopper and the OH-58 Kiowa scout, the US Army's choppers are old as dirt. The youngest helo in Army is the AH-64, which will mark its thirtieth year on duty in 2016. With the service continuously flirting with a replacement program for the four choppers – the so-called Future Vertical Lift program – the development and replacement costs that come from a new engine for the Blackhawk and Apache may not make much sense.

"Unlike the engine war [of the 1980s] where you really did have a problem, this is a series of solutions in search of a problem," analyst Richard Aboulafia told Defense One of the unannounced engine replacement program.

While Aboulafia makes a good point, the truth of this matter is that, sooner rather than later, the US Army is going to need to recognize the need for spending on its helicopters. Whether that comes in the form of new engines for two of its most well known helos, or the wider development of a new family, expect to hear more on this subject soon.
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