The production line for the AH-64E Apache attack helicopter may end in 2026. (Photo: U.S. Army)
The production line for the AH-64E Apache attack helicopter may end in 2026. (Photo: U.S. Army)

As part of its deliberations, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) recently held a three-day hearing with representatives from the Advanced Turbine Engine Company (ATEC), General Electric [GE], and the Army regarding selection of the GE T901 engine for the Army Improved Turbine Engine Program (ITEP).

In the competition, GE’s single-spool T901 engine beat out the dual-spool T900 offered by ATEC, a joint venture between Honeywell [HON] and Pratt & Whitney, a division of United Technologies Corp. [UTX]. On May 30, the GAO upheld the Army’s decision.

Those participating in the recent GAO hearing included Army engineers; Wade Brown, a contracts lawyer for Army Materiel Command in Huntsville, Ala.; Marcia Madsen, who represented GE and who is a partner and the co-chair of the national security practice at the Washington, D.C.-based law firm of Mayer Brown LLP; Scott McCaleb, who represented ATEC and who is a partner at Washington, D.C-based Wiley Rein LLP. The latter firm represented Boeing [BA] in its protest of the Air Force tanker award to a team of Northrop Grumman [NOC] and EADS, which is now Airbus Group, in 2008, a protest sustained by GAO in June, 2008. Boeing now builds the Air Force’s KC-46A tankers.

ATEC filed a Feb. 19 protest on ITEP with GAO and a subsequent April 1 supplemental protest that raised additional issues. Agencies that are the subject of bid protests have 30 days to file a report on the protest, and the company then has 10 days to file comments on that report. GAO must issue a decision within 100 days of a bid protest.

GAO denied both protests on May 30. GAO has not listed the decisions on its web site, but GE and ATEC confirmed the denial, and GAO may release its many-paged, detailed decision in the coming weeks.

ATEC said on May 30 that it has asked Congress to allow both the GE and the ATEC engine to enter the Engineering and Manufacturing Development (EMD) phase.

“The GAO findings notwithstanding, a procurement this crucial should never be made based on paper proposals,” ATEC President Craig Madden said May 30. “Indeed, it is customary for the Pentagon to thoroughly test competing engines before making a final down select. Testing provides clear, unequivocal evidence of engine capabilities that cannot be obtained through a proposal.  Therefore, we have recommended that Congress provide the funding to allow the Army to take both engines further into the Engineering and Manufacturing Development phase of the procurement before making a final selection.”

GE took issue with ATEC’s characterization of the ITEP competition. “It’s important to note that both ATEC and GE have run two full engine prototype tests through the Advanced Affordable Turbine Engine (AATE) program and the Technology Maturation & Risk Reduction (TMRR) contracts over the past 12 years,” GE spokesman David Wilson wrote in an email on May 31.  “GE ran an additional full engine prototype test during TMRR–even though the Army did not require it–to prove the technologies and design even more and drive down risk.  We scratch our heads a bit when someone calls these ‘paper engines.'”

“Down selecting at EMD saves the tax payer money and allows the Army to get this critical engine to the warfighter sooner,” Wilson wrote in his email.  “Adding a second engine would delay the schedule up to two years.  It would also cost twice as much, impacting the Army’s budget baseline and jeopardizing the Army’s modernization plans, not to mention the additional manpower and administrative costs the Army would have to invest in order to manage two separate engine programs and the additional cost of another integration effort on both the Apache and the Black Hawk.”

ITEP is likely worth billions of dollars as the engine is to power the next generation of Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawks and Boeing AH-64 Apache helicopters, as well as variants of the Army Future Vertical Lift program, including the Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft (FARA). Sikorsky is a unit of Lockheed Martin [LMT].

GE said on May 30 it expects “the stop work order on the Engineering and Manufacturing Development phase of ITEP to be lifted shortly, and GE’s team is ready to execute immediately.”

“GE Aviation is committed to accelerating the T901 EMD schedule ahead of the Army’s baseline plan to support an earlier fielding in Apaches and Black Hawks, in addition to supporting the FARA program,” the company said.

After the ATEC bid protest in February, Madden said his company “clearly offered the best value through a combination of a highly rated and technically superior engine that was judged to be much lower risk, and believe we did so significantly under the government’s budget.”

ITEP seeks an engine that is 50 percent more powerful, 25 percent more fuel efficient, and lasts 20 percent longer than the current Black Hawk and Apache T700 engines by GE — engines that GE said have run more than 100 million flight hours with the Army.