Modernizing electrical power systems in US Army Aviation by 2030

In order to equip the U.S. Army of 2030 with cutting-edge capabilities for its combat aviation brigades, Army Aviation is undertaking a once-in-a-generation modernization strategy. This ambitious initiative encompasses investments ranging from targeted updates to the existing fleet to the design of new Future Vertical Lift (FVL) aircraft. Reporting on these transformative changes is Cindy Mitchell, representing the U.S. Army.

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Modernizing electrical power systems in US Army Aviation by 2030 Smart power management improvements serve to reduce pilot burden, increase safety and allow for more efficient aircraft operation. (Picture source: U.S. Army/Staff Sgt. Justin Moeller)

This transformation necessitates enhancements to the electrical power systems (EPS) of the Army's aircraft. Overseeing these power systems for both the current and future aircraft fleets is the Aviation Turbine Engines Project Office, referred to as ATE. ATE holds responsibility for modernizing EPS to ensure that both the enduring and forthcoming platforms are well-equipped to support multi-domain operations. Additionally, the project office manages programs related to improved turbine engines, namely the T700, T55, and T901.

As of today, the enduring aircraft fleet still relies on 1970s and 1980s EPS technology. These platforms face a growing power gap challenge as new technologies and capabilities are integrated into the aircraft. Electrical power demands will continue to rise with the incorporation of additional mission systems, customer equipment, advanced aircraft survivability equipment suites, and upgraded avionics and instrumentation packages in the years ahead.

The Army's EPS Initiative is a critical factor supporting Tier 1 major platform programs. The FVL Cross Functional Team has designated the EPS initiative as a Tier 2 Army Aviation modernization priority. Future EPS will adopt a modular open systems approach (MOSA) for the design, development, and qualification of a standardized EPS solution for both current and future Army aircraft.

The EPS team is actively addressing the capability gap between the supply and demand of aircraft power loads. This involves providing extra power for overall aircraft operation, maintaining a margin for reserve, and ensuring the system's scalability for future expansion. These efforts not only bridge existing capability gaps in the enduring fleet but also facilitate the integration of future systems and technologies, enhancing aircraft lethality and survivability. Utilizing MOSA to design a common electrical systems architecture will result in a more intelligent and capable power system, effectively addressing current power gaps and meeting future requirements at a reduced cost.

The EPS team recently secured Operational Energy funding for FY24-28 from the Office of the Secretary of Defense Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation. This funding will support the modernization of foundational electrical systems and power management, enhancing the Army's rotary wing aircraft in terms of smart power management, thermal control, reliability, maintainability, and safety.

Operational Energy funding covers two major modernization efforts: the development of a common EPS technical data package through engineering and architecture modeling and the design and creation of a power management solution. The EPS team collaborates with platform original equipment manufacturers to define a modern electrical architecture for each platform as part of the engineering and architecture modeling effort. This includes determining how new technologies and components will interact with existing systems and establishing a common architecture that allows for component reuse across platforms.

Modernizing power management systems involves incorporating elements such as electronic circuit breakers and a management controller for automatic control of electrical loads during emergencies. This not only reduces crew workload but also enhances survivability. PM ATE, in collaboration with the Army Contracting Command, Redstone, has recently awarded funding for the development of electronic circuit breaker hardware. PM ATE will utilize this jointly developed hardware prototype, created with the assistance of DEVCOM C5ISR Center, DEVCOM Aviation and Missile Center, and ATE, to showcase future EPS capabilities and MOSA compliance. These improvements will alleviate pilot burdens, enhance safety, and optimize aircraft operations.

The EPS team is leveraging enduring platforms as technology incubators to inform FVL requirements. This approach reduces future risks and streamlines the integration of common systems for both FVL and enduring fleets. This continuous process of learning and improvement informs the development of aircraft power systems, fostering commonality, improving capabilities, and enhancing sustainability across the entire fleet.