European defence officials are calling for a series of flight and ground demonstrations in the coming years of technologies to equip a future rotorcraft for service entry in the 2030s.

That ambition is laid out in the latest call for proposals from the European Defence Fund (EDF), which were published on 15 March.

Germany NH90 TTH-c-Bundeswehr

Source: Bundeswehr

Long-term replacement or upgrade of NH90s could be driven by ENGRT project

From a total budget of €1.1 billion ($1.1 billion), the EDF has allocated €100 million for the second phase of the EU Next Generation Rotorcraft Technology (ENGRT) project.

Designed to “lead to a step improvement in EU [vertical take-off and landing] capability with a view to future EU/NATO rotorcraft programmes” to enter service around 2035 or beyond, the technologies under study may also “be used for upgrades of legacy platforms, where applicable”.

Phase 1 work began early last year and saw Airbus Helicopters and Leonardo Helicopters jointly leading an EU-wide industry consortium on an initial programme of research, focused on feasibility studies, assessment of alternatives and developing a concept of operations.

The follow-on activity will see refinement of the outputs from the earlier effort and will, for the first time, include real-world testing.

Proposals should aim to “perform ground and flight demonstrations of systems and technologies, relying on technology demonstrators and available assets, as well as on laboratory testing”, the call document says.

Flight testing should cover interoperability with other assets across multiple domains, manned-unmanned teaming, and other “technology bricks”, including the aircraft’s modular architecture, survivability systems, and “future on-board energy/power capability” and related power management requirements.

In addition, the call for proposals envisages rig or laboratory testing of the system architecture, survivability elements, aerodynamic performance and characteristics, and of “critical structural and dynamic components”.

In the latter case, this would enable collection of “experimental data for preliminary validation activities of design concepts, in support to the rotorcraft architecture assessment”.

Extensive simulation activity is also required, the call document says, in combination with the results of rig testing.

At its heart, the ENGRT programme seeks to begin the process of converging “towards a single vehicle architecture” with related assessment of “operational concepts for high-performance military VTOL platforms”.

Key areas of focus include the platform’s performance characteristics such as speed and range, survivability, connectivity and maintainability. In addition, manufacturing advances should be capable of reducing acquisition and upgrade costs, it says.

A “feasibility analysis and preliminary requirements review of rotorcraft architectures” should also be conducted, the call for proposals says, “to confirm the technical, programmatic, industrial and market feasibility of the solution(s), with a view to further development and industrialisation and production phases”.

An overall “production schedule and roadmap” should be set out, alongside establishment of “the preliminary programme management and the system engineering plans”, plus costing and market assessment activities.

The EDF initiative is running in parallel with a separate NATO programme also focused on next-generation rotorcraft.

Led by a group of five EU nations – France, Germany, Greece, Italy and the Netherlands – plus the UK, the Next Generation Rotorcraft Capability project could benefit from technologies matured through the ENGRT.