PARIS - “Military is where the commercial business was 10 years ago,” says GE Aviation president and GE vice chairman David Joyce. With commercial now set after a decade of renewal (the CF6 replaced by the GEnx, GE90 by GE9X, CFM56 by Leap, CF34 by Passport, and the emergence of the Catalyst turboprop engine), hundreds of engineers and research and development resources are being tasked with creating future generations of military powerplants. Now that the commercial side has proven that new materials such as ceramic matrix composites and technologies such as additive manufacturing are viable, affordable and producible, the military has the confidence to lead the march into new territory.

Technologies developed for commercial engines have enabled new military capabilities; in turn, military research and development will enable even newer commercial engines decades into the future. It’s a virtuous cycle, Joyce explains.

GE is on a roll: it has won the U.S. Army’s ITEP competition to replace all T700 engines in Black Hawk and Apache helicopters with the ultra-fuel-efficient single-shaft ITEP next-gen helicopter engine, and it won contracts worth a billion dollars to develop its AETD three-stream adaptable fighter engine as far as demonstrating it on the ground in an F-35. Flight tests could follow, as could eventual reengining of the F-35 fleet. But in any case, GE will be ready with an engine for sixth-generation fighters.

In addition, the ubiquitous F404/F414 is being upgraded and continues to win new competitions, including the USAF’s new Boeing-Saab T-X trainer and several foreign future fighter programs; the T408 turboshaft powers the new Sikorsky CH-53K King Stallion; and a team is working full time on competing to reengine the B-52 bomber. Business is growing “at really good rates” on both manned and unmanned “black” programs, says Joyce, and hybrid electric is being studied for future applications including UAVs, he adds.

He believes GE already has the enabling technologies for the next decade, “but industrializing them is a different thing.” The company has already invested “billions of dollars” in developing a manufacturing and supply chain of materials and technologies for its commercial engines, and this will continue.

“Additive manufacturing may be the most disruptive technology that I’ve seen in the industry in a long time,” says Joyce, “as it opens up a space for designers and for manufacturing that is on a different dimensional plane. It takes a long time to learn how to design with additive. It takes even longer to learn how to manufacture with additive at speed and high rate from a quality standpoint of view.

“We are jumping in with both feet because the results on the back end when you get it right are extraordinary,” he adds.

“It’s going to pay off a whole load more in the next 20 years. This is going to be the best [real return on investment] that we’ve ever done.”