A CH-47F Block I Chinook helicopter with 3rd General Support Aviation Battalion, 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade maneuvers to pick up an M119A3 howitzer during sling load operations on Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Photo courtesy of the U.S. Army

RIDLEY PARK, Pa.Boeing [BA] is undertaking a “beyond Block II” effort for its CH-47F Chinooks, including a testing program this year of two General Electric [GE] 7,500 horsepower T408 engines–2,500 horsepower more than the current Honeywell [HON] T55 engines.

The GE-Boeing-Army engine effort is proceeding under a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA) that began in 2016.

“We’re pretty far along in the modifications of the aircraft,” said Chuck Dabundo, the Boeing H-47 program manager, at the company’s pre-Paris Air Show media tour here last week. “We’re getting it ready to fly.”

The T408 engine is also to power the Marine Corps’ CH-53K helicopter by Sikorsky [LMT]. GE has said that the T408 will allow the CH-53K “to carry a 27,000-pound external load over a mission radius of 110 nautical miles in hot weather conditions, nearly triple the external load carrying capacity of current aircraft.”

Although there is no program for a new engine for the CH-47, the CRADA partners want to examine the increased payload and other capabilities of the T408 — a possibility afforded by the Army-installed aft mounts on the CH-47F.

While the U.S. Army’s fiscal 2020 budget request proposed eliminating the CH-47 Block II upgrade to help fund the service’s six modernization priorities, the House Appropriations Committee’s defense panel has recommended against such cuts in its version of a fiscal 2020 defense appropriations bill and has inserted $28 million in advance procurement for the upgrades in fiscal 2020.

“The committee previously appropriated CH–47 Block II funding based on the Chief of Staff of the Army’s written certification of the program of record,” according to the panel’s report. “The committee is concerned that the Army is now reducing its support for the CH–47 Block II program which was determined to be necessary less than two years ago. This lack of acquisition discipline is of great concern to the committee, and in this case, will have significant negative repercussions across multiple domains. The committee directs the Secretary of the Army to restore funding for the CH–47F Block II program across the next future years defense program when the fiscal year 2021 budget request is submitted.”

Army Secretary Mark Esper last week acknowledged resistance from lawmakers and the industrial base on programmatic cuts included in the service’s fiscal year 2020 budget request, telling reporters that specific push back has focused on halting CH-47 Chinook Block II upgrades.

Yet, the defense industrial base is not the sole source of Block II support. Army CH-47 crews have also said they would like their aircraft to receive increased lift from the CH-47F Block II upgrades.

Esper, during a discussion at the Atlantic Council last week, reiterated that the Army is asking the rotorcraft industry to begin thinking of future heavy vertical lift solutions that will be better suited to “survive against robust air defenses” in a potential future fight.