Safran Helicopter Engines (SHE) has become the latest company to declare an interest in the UK’s effort to update its medium-lift rotorcraft fleet, pitching domestic assembly of the Aneto turboshaft as a core element of its offer.
Aneto-1K engines are an option, alongside less powerful GE Aviation CT7s, on the Leonardo Helicopters AW149 which the airframer is pitching for the UK’s New Medium Helicopter (NMH) requirement; its current demonstrator aircraft is equipped with the SHE powerplant.
Under the NMH procurement, the Ministry of Defence is seeking 36-44 helicopters to replace four types currently in UK service, including the Royal Air Force’s elderly Puma HC2s.
But success for the Aneto-1K is entirely dependent on the UK’s selection of the AW149, which faces stiff competition from the Airbus Helicopters H175M and Sikorsky S-70M, respectively powered by the Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6 and GE T700 – the military variant of the CT7.
Nonetheless, SHE is convinced its proposal offers the biggest benefit to the UK: it promises that should the Aneto-equipped AW149 win the NMH contest then it will build and overhaul the 2,500shp (1,840kW)-class powerplants for the UK, and any for AW149 export sales, at its site in Fareham in southern England. In addition, the helicopter’s eAPU60 auxiliary power unit would also be manufactured and maintained at the plant.
SHE says the Aneto offers better hot and high performance than the 2,000shp-rated CT7, plus its integrated inlet particle separator allows continued operations in dusty or sandy environments; it is also free of ITAR-limited parts.
Outlining the company’s plans to journalists at the Fareham facility on 25 March, UK chief executive Nick Earl said that “substantial numbers” of highly skilled jobs would be created by the move, boosting one of the most deprived regions of the country.
Should Leonardo Helicopters and SHE be successful with their respective bids, then the UK site would become the “lead capability” for the Aneto across the company, initially for the -1K model but potentially covering all variants, depending on the overall success of the engine programme, says Earl.
“It depends on what is successful and what the overall volumes are. If the volumes fit here and the capability is established here we will do it here,” he says.
Similar considerations are also likely to apply to the eAPU60, which will also equip the AW249 attack helicopter being developed by Leonardo for the Italian army. Darren McIntosh, military campaign manager at SHE, says: “There’s no point having two [assembly] capabilities – one in France and one here. So if we are successful, we envision that those will be built here as well.”
However, the Aneto has yet to demonstrate any commercial success. It was selected by Leonardo Helicopters in 2017 for the AW189K but has yet to enter service and it is unclear if the airframer retains any commitments for the variant. Another engine model, the -1X, will power Airbus Helicopters’ Racer technology demonstrator.
In addition to the proposed level 4 overhaul facility for Aneto engines, SHE would also set up a parallel repair line for the related RTM322 engine, says Earl.
While the Aneto is a new engine in its own right for the civil and military markets, its development leans heavily on the military-specific RTM322, a programme SHE took full control of in 2013 when it bought out former partner Rolls-Royce.
SHE already handles certain maintenance tasks for the RTM322s that power the British Army’s older Boeing AH-64 Apaches, and the Leonardo Helicopters AW101 Merlins flown by the Royal Navy, but these are sent overseas for complete disassembly and overhaul.
Although Earl says this would be a “significant increase” in the Fareham site’s capabilities, until 2015 it performed level 4 overhaul of SHE’s Arrius and Arriel engines, leaving the facility with key infrastructure such as test cells already in place. It would, he says, be a “re-organisation and recommissioning – it’s certainly not a new build or starting from scratch”.
McIntosh says SHE is proposing “highly competitive pricing” on the engines, coupled with a “really robust” support rate.
He stresses that commonalities between the Aneto and RTM322 engines will help SHE to drive down through-life costs: “We are going to be using all the people, all the spare parts – everything’s going to be maximised between those two engines so that everyone gets the maximum benefits.”
Experience on the RTM322 also means “we think we have nailed the maintenance hours per flying hour”, he says.
Deliveries of Aneto engines could begin within 12 months of a contract signature, says McIntosh, although these would be France-built examples. However, with 18 months lead time a “hybrid approach” could instead be implemented, offering engines that are built in the UK but tested in France; a full domestic solution could be set up within 24-30 months of contract signature, he suggests.
Around 15% of the parts on each Aneto engine are UK-sourced, says Earl, but if domestic assembly and overhaul is factored in, that would take the figure “closer to 50%”.
While Leonardo Helicopters is “neutral” on the engine selection, Earl says the manufacturer is “incredibly grateful for our engagement and the proactiveness of our proposal and the solution we have put forward to them”.