ANT Industries Commentary: Rolls-Royce and ITP Aero’s Collaborative Leap Forward in Unmanned Aircraft Engines

As a key supplier to both Rolls-Royce and ITP Aero, ANT Industries is closely monitoring the exciting collaboration between these aerospace giants. Rolls-Royce’s German unit and Spain-based ITP Aero have joined forces to develop a new engine based on Rolls-Royce’s Advance2 two-spool core, aimed at equipping future ‘loyal wingman’ un-crewed aircraft in the 10t-plus class, expected to enter service early in the next decade.

This significant development was disclosed at the ILA Berlin air show on June 5, where Rolls-Royce and ITP Aero unveiled an engine mock-up. This new powerplant will leverage technologies from Rolls-Royce’s Pearl-series business jet engines, renowned for their thrust range of 15,000-18,000lb (67-80kN). The collaborative effort is set to push the boundaries of propulsion systems for unmanned aircraft, a sector where ANT Industries has substantial interest and involvement.

Shaun Rowley, Managing Director of ANT Industries, commented on the collaboration: “The partnership between Rolls-Royce and ITP Aero is a significant step forward in aerospace innovation. As a key supplier, ANT Industries is proud to contribute to the development of components that will play a crucial role in the success of this new engine. This collaboration underscores the importance of strong partnerships in advancing aerospace technology.”

The partnership, formalised through a memorandum of understanding signed in the presence of representatives from the German and Spanish defence ministries, focuses on the joint design, development, manufacture, and support of this advanced engine. It’s designed to operate alongside a manned sixth-generation fighter, integrating into the Airbus Defence & Space “remote carrier” aircraft concept, a cornerstone of the tri-national Future Combat Air System (FCAS) program involving France, Germany, and Spain.

Airbus also showcased a ‘Wingman’ concept at the show, drawing comparisons to a concept car. However, the propulsion system supplier for this platform remains undecided. ITP Aero is already working with Safran Aircraft Engines and MTU Aero through the EUMET venture on the engine for the manned fighter element of FCAS.

Dr. Dirk Geisinger, head of Rolls-Royce Deutschland, stated the robust and reliable technologies developed in Germany over the past decades as the foundation for the loyal wingman engine concept. He highlighted the necessity of strong partnerships, noting that collaboration with ITP Aero, previously owned by Rolls-Royce until its sale in 2022, will strengthen German-Spanish aerospace relations.

Carlos Alzola, managing director of ITP Aero, described the MoU as a commitment to excellence and innovation in European aerospace, contributing to a European propulsion solution that showcases the capabilities of both nations.

Rene Bernstein, vice-president of defence business development and future programs at Rolls-Royce Deutschland, pointed out that the investments in modern technology over the past five years will benefit the armed forces of Germany and Spain. This approach reduces overall investment required to bring a new engine to market, ensuring it remains competitive and affordable. “We have the technology ready,” he said, “we just need to modify the outer design of the core, allowing us to reuse 90% of existing technology and generate significant savings.” He anticipates a new engine could be available and certified within six years.

Alvaro Santodomingo Martell, executive director of ITP’s defence business unit, noted that the pact builds on more than 20 years of collaboration, enabling the partners to push forward a truly European solution for a potential ‘Loyal Wingman’ over 10 tonnes. Bernstein declined to specify the exact thrust-class of the engine but indicated it would be at the upper end of the Pearl family, with the most powerful Pearl 10X producing more than 18,200lb of thrust. An afterburning capability is also under consideration, potentially meeting demand for supersonic speeds.

While the companies have domestic customers in mind, they also foresee global demand for the future powerplant. The workshare split between Rolls-Royce and ITP Aero on the development is yet to be fully determined, as further discussions and customer requirements will shape each company’s area of work.

Martell stressed that the engine mock-up revealed at ILA is based on common customer requirements, but the design will evolve with more precise specifications. As opportunities arise and programs are launched, the engine concept will adapt to ensure it remains the most suitable and competitive solution.

Rolls-Royce’s UK defence arm has also developed a small, clean-sheet two-spool engine demonstrator called Orpheus for un-crewed applications. However, Bernstein highlighted that, unlike the Orpheus developed from scratch, the Rolls-Royce Deutschland-ITP team’s approach is to build around existing technology, providing a product more quickly and efficiently.

Rowley further added, “At ANT Industries, we pride ourselves on our ability to support cutting-edge aerospace projects with our advanced manufacturing capabilities. This collaboration between Rolls-Royce and ITP Aero aligns perfectly with our commitment to innovation and excellence in the aerospace industry. We look forward to continuing our support and contribution to such pivotal developments.”

As ANT Industries continues to supply critical components to both Rolls-Royce and ITP Aero, these advancements reaffirm the dynamic and innovative spirit driving the aerospace industry forward.