ATLANTA–The increasing weight of Army helicopters has become such a problem a key officer believes it is limiting, as opposed to providing, options to a commander.  

U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence and Fort Rucker Commanding General Maj. Gen. William Gayler said April 29 the service aircraft have been gaining weight “for all the right reasons,” including new technology designed to protect crew or passengers. This technology includes countermeasures to protect helicopters from ground-fired missiles. Army Aviation Center of Excellence Capability Development and Integration Directorate Director Col. Thomas von Eschenbach said May 3 in an interview these include aircraft survivability technologies like detect or defeat technologies and expendable flares.

The problem, Gayler said, is that increased weight decreases maneuverability, available ammunition and the number of warfighters the aircraft can hold. He said the Army is currently using nine UH-60 Black Hawks to move a platoon, which consists of between 16 and 44 soldiers, when it could be using four Black Hawks.

“We need range, speed and endurance and the ability to operate in all environments,” Gayler told an audience at Army Aviation Association of America convention.

Gayler said increasing weight also increases weight and risk. He said increased weight drives higher fuel consumption, operating cost and an additional number of forward refueling points.

Army officials believe that current aircraft can only perform with a full tactical load on 84 percent of the earth’s surface. von Eschenbach said the Army calculates altitude and temperature to see how well aircraft can perform, so the service has to make these trades in fuel or ammo or personnel to reach peak performance at those “hot and high” altitudes. He said these trades include what loads they can carry, how much fuel and which weapon systems can be brought on board.

The Army hopes to solve this power problem with a next-generation engine. The Improved Turbine Engine Program (ITEP) hopes to develop an engine that is 50 percent more powerful and consumes 25 percent less fuel while providing 20 percent longer engine life than current rotorcraft turbine engines. The new engine will power both the AH-64 Apache and UH-60 Black Hawk aircraft. von Eschenbach said Gayler is preparing for a key Milestone A briefing for ITEP. Army Program Executive Officer for Aviation Brig. Gen. Bob Marion said April 30 the service’s intent was to get to Milestone A this quarter, or by June 31.

General Electric [GE] and Honeywell [HON] Pratt & Whitney [UTX] joint venture called Advanced Turbine Engine Company (ATEC) are working on ITEP.