US Army chief of staff Gen Mark Milley and acting Secretary Ryan McCarthy confirmed the service is pushing the Future Vertical Lift programme over incremental block upgrades during this week’s annual AUSA conference in Washington, DC.

When news broke a week before the conference that the US Army was reorganizing its modernization efforts, the service listed six priorities including “Future of Vertical Lift platforms” that would address attack, lift and reconnaissance missions in manned and unmanned configurations. Conspicuously missing was the army’s Improved Turbine Engine Programme, leading to speculation that the Apache and Black Hawk engine replacement could be on the chopping block.

But Col Erskine Bentley, US Army Training and Doctrine Command capability manager for FVL and ITEP, believes the GE T700 engine replacement programme has some longevity in the army’s portfolio. With the Boeing AH-64 and Sikorsky UH-60M expected to fly for the next 50 years, ITEP will play a crucial role in maintaining those aircraft's relevancy, according to Bentley. ITEP also fits into the army’s FVL plan, where it would power the next generation of light attack and reconnaissance rotorcraft.

“ITEP is along its way right now, it’s important to FVL because it is a capability set 1 and 2 power plan,” he says. “I think the ITEP will be brought along with that. I don't know if the leadership would decide to make that cut, but obviously that could be a future decision.”

The army’s Apache programme manager also brushed off a possible upgrade from the E model to F model attack helicopter, an offer suggested by Boeing during last year’s AUSA. The army and Boeing are analysing options to bridge the gap between the legacy Apache and FVL, which could include sensor and laser upgrades,Col Joe Hoecherl says this week.

“That could very easily end up being a new model of aircraft, but at this point it’s premature,” he says.“I think right now we’re not talking about a new model, partly because the priority right now is FVL.”

However, Hoecherl also acknowledged the army could extend FVL’s procurement timeline and depending on which capability set is fielded first, some aircraft could hang around the service for longer than expected and need block upgrades.