Power Systems Enable Army Aviation Modernization

By Samantha BedwellOctober 27, 2020

1 / 3 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Turbine technologies and emerging Hybrid and Electric Propulsion technologies can be leveraged into Army Aviation for increased capability. (Photo Credit: Samantha Bedwell) VIEW ORIGINAL
Growing Electrical Power Capability Gaps
2 / 3 Show Caption + Hide Caption – The demand for electrical power capability will drastically increase over the next 10-20 years. (Photo Credit: Samantha Bedwell) VIEW ORIGINAL
Targeted EPS Modernization
3 / 3 Show Caption + Hide Caption – The Targeted EPS Modernization effort will bridge the gap between the FVL and enduring fleets, and serve as a technology incubator for FVL. (Photo Credit: Samantha Bedwell) VIEW ORIGINAL

Program Executive Office Aviation is delivering rapid modernization to meet the Army’s number three modernization priority, Future Vertical Lift (FVL), through the Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft (FARA) and Future Long-Range Assault Aircraft (FLRAA) programs. Ongoing Power Systems modernization efforts in support of this priority will benefit the Army in both the near, mid, and long-term.

Integrating new power systems into the enduring fleet will support the incubation and maturation along with risk-reduction associated with the development of new technologies in support of FVL efforts. The costly divergence of technology, logistics support chains, and sustainment costs between the enduring fleet and FVL can also be avoided.

Power systems modernization is a significant common denominator between fleets airborne now and in 2028. The Aviation Turbine Engines (ATE) Project Office is managing several efforts and providing the ingenuity necessary in bridging to the future fleet and keeping the Army flying forward. In addition to sustaining the T700 and T55 engine programs as the Army’s reliable powerhouses, the ATE Project Office is directing two of the Army’s Tier 2 modernization priorities: the Improved Turbine Engine Program (ITEP) and the Electrical Power Systems (EPS) modernization initiatives.

The Improved Turbine Engine Program (ITEP), an Acquisition Category I program, completed a successful Milestone B in January 2019 and awarded an Engineering and Manufacturing Development contract valued at $519M to GE Aviation for the T901 turbine engine the following month. As a critical component of the FARA, and the Apache and Black Hawk modernization strategy, ITEP has been maintaining accelerated design targets to ensure alignment with the FARA timeline.  Currently the program is on an accelerated schedule and completed the Critical Design Review in July during the COVID-19 pandemic. This has postured ITEP to execute the First Engine To Test (FETT) no later than the fourth quarter of FY21. FETT will kick-off the testing required to complete the Preliminary Flight Rating which is crucial to enable the FARA prototypes to conduct their first flights and initiate the Apache and Black Hawk Developmental Testing.

Similar to ITEP, the EPS initiatives will support and enhance FVL modernization efforts. The EPS initiatives encompass Power Generation, Power and Thermal Management, Power Electronics, and Energy Storage solutions. In the near term, the data gained as these modernization initiatives are advanced into integrated technologies will inform FVL requirements and reduce risk during the acquisition process through prior testing and studies. The products resulting from these efforts will have the added benefit of being common systems utilizing the newest technologies which can be integrated into both the FVL and enduring fleets. The combination of the breadth of research and testing to inform FVL requirements and the integration of EPS technologies will have a comparable, if not further reaching impact as other Tier 2 priorities.

The EPS team within the ATE Project Office is beginning to address the EPS modernization initiative goals by creating a baseline of the technologies currently relied upon. The team found that the increasingly widening gap between current aircraft power capability and demand is caused by a continued reliance on antiquated 1970s and 1980s technology.  If the new platforms continue to rely on the same electrical power systems technology as the enduring fleet, this growing gap in power demand will be become an increasingly urgent issue as advanced avionics, new aircraft survivability suites, and weapons systems such as directed energy are integrated into FVL platforms. Outdated technology coupled with platform unique systems emphasize the need for developing or acquiring new technology that can be matured into common systems across enduring platforms and then integrated into FVL as the new baseline. Using the modernization of enduring fleet platforms power systems as technology incubators will help meet the growing power demands for Army Aviation modernization plans. Technology developed through this methodology will be proven to be reliable, affordable, and safe. EPS research and technology will also provide holistic opportunities for superior performance against near-peer threats in Multi-Domain Operations, create opportunity to integrate emerging hybrid-propulsion systems into the Army fleet, and create a necessary bridge between the FVL and enduring fleets. The EPS team intends to provide Army Aviation with these modern, common solutions through a tiered approach of research, development, integration, and information sharing with support from fellow military services, Industry partners, and academia.

In FY20, the EPS Team has made significant progress in early research and requirements development, pursuing contracting avenues, and initiating efforts in the areas of Power Storage, Architecture Modeling and Development, and increased Power Generation to prepare for the efforts ahead. The Common Aviation Battery will be the first of the EPS initiatives to move through this process to inform FVL requirements and develop advanced common technologies. The current Sealed Lead Acid Batteries are heavy, underpowered, serve only as emergency power sources, are unique to each platform, and rely on technology that has not significantly changed since World War II. With recent and profound progress in battery technology, the EPS team intends to provide a multipurpose, energy-dense energy storage device for Army Aviation that is lighter, safer, more powerful, and can be integrated across multiple platforms. The Common Battery effort completed Risk Reduction Ballistic Testing in 3QFY20, and is prepared to begin kickoff events with vendors in 1QFY21 based on available funding. Initial Systems Architecture Studies and Modeling efforts have also begun and will ultimately provide potential system and component solutions needed to address current and emerging capability gaps.

Power systems enable Army Aviation fleets to fly, fight, and win. Whether it is the turbine engine serving as the heart of the aircraft or the electrical power systems creating an intricate network of supplemental and emergency power, the modernization efforts and engine programs managed by the ATE Project Office are the power supporting Army Aviation fleets. Based on the Multi-Domain Operations initiatives and Army Future Command’s U.S. Army’s Power and Battery Strategy, the enduring fleet platforms can be used as incubators for modernization efforts in the areas of Power Generation, Power and Thermal Management, Power Electronics, and Energy Storage which will in turn inform FVL requirements. Continued collaboration with industry is necessary to successfully posture the FVL Fleets for Multi-Domain Operations, capitalize on emerging technologies, and maintain necessary relevance and commonality between the fleets.