GE Aerospace is to assess the potential powerplant options for the next-generation military helicopter being considered by a group of seven NATO members.

Awarded by the NATO Support and Procurement Agency (NSPA) on 5 December, the six-month study contract – which is to begin in January 2024 – will see work carried out by GE’s Defense & Systems business in the USA and Italian subsidiary Avio Aero.

AW101 sil-c-Leonardo Helicopters

Source: Leonardo Helicopters

AW101 is one of several platforms targeted for future replacement

Research conducted into novel powerplant options will support NATO’s Next Generation Rotorcraft Capability (NGRC) project, which aims to field a new medium- or heavy-class helicopter in the 2040s.

“This transformative study represents a strategic initiative to identify, evaluate, and compare innovative powerplant solutions capable of meeting the NGRC capability requirement,” says the NSPA.

“The comprehensive findings from this study will empower NSPA with critical insights into the powerplant domain, providing invaluable support for the assessment of future integrated platform design concepts.”

A tender for another industry-led concept study covering the NGRC’s open-system architecture closed in late October – around a month behind the propulsion tender – and a contract award is expected in the coming days.

Those two workstreams, plus nation-led activities on the concept of operations and technologies, will feed into a fifth stream to develop the “integrated platform concept”.

The release of a request for proposals (RFP) related to the overall concept is “targeted for early 2024”, says the NSPA.

Under the propulsion study, GE will identify “novel powerplant concepts aligned with [the] NGRC specifications”, including their technology readiness levels. It will also analyse their performance against criteria such as capability – including for different aircraft architectures – reliability, safety, cost and maintainability.

In its RFP for the propulsion evaluation, released in July, the NSPA stressed that a “novel powerplant” includes a next-generation gas turbine, alongside electric- or hydrogen-powered designs, or hybrid solutions.

Disclosed performance attributes for the NGRC show a range of 900nm (1,650km) in combat configuration and 1,080nm in “clean” configuration, endurance of 5h with a full crew and 1t payload, and a cruise speed of “optimally greater” than 220kt (407km/h) or more, “but not less than 180kt”. Maximum take-off weight is planned to be between 10-17t.

An earlier attributes document suggested engines of at least 3,000shp (2,240kW) would be required for the NGRC, but the RFP stated that “the exact power requirements will be dependent on the overall platform design architecture”.

GE is free to propose its own engine concepts or technologies through the study “provided that such elements are assessed in a fair and balanced comparison”, according to the RFP.

The NGRC project sees a need to replace hundreds of medium helicopters operated by NATO members – excluding the USA – in the 2035-2040 timeframe. Six nations are leading the initiative – France, Germany, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands and the UK – with Canada to join shortly. 

This story has been edited to clarify a date in the sixth paragraph and Canada’s status in the final paragraph.