F-35’s new engine will cost billions and will cut aircraft supply

WASHINGTON — The US will have to make a difficult decision. Development of the next-generation engine for the F-35 costs billions. According to US Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall, this will affect the production and delivery of the F-35 in the US and around the world. Kendall does not rule out the possibility that 70 F-35 fighters will not be produced and delivered.

F-35 will carry solid rocket-ramjet AARGM-ER: INS/GPS, 250km range
Photo credit: USAF

$6 billion will cost to develop the engine. According to experts in the USA, this engine is oriented towards the base model of the F-35 – version “A” [F-35А]. However, the billions of dollars will have to come from somewhere, and according to Kendall, the United States may abandon the acquisition of 70 fighters. In this way, the F-35 next-generation engine project can be financed “painlessly”.

According to the brief, the aircraft’s new engine should provide better fuel efficiency and more power. The US has been trying to reduce the cost of flying the F-35 for years. According to the latest data, they vary between 45,000 and 55,000 USD, and the government wants them to be reduced almost in half – 25,000 USD.

It’s not just fuel costs that are a problem. Against the background of the war in Ukraine and the real possibility of war with China, the US would not risk using the F-35 with the current F135 engine developed by Pratt & Whitney.

The F135 engine

Cutting-edge engine: third stream of air may power US F-35-F135 engine
Photo credit: Pratt&Whitney

Defense News reminds us, in a detailed analysis of the program’s status and future plans, that years ago the F-35 was a radically different project. Today, this fighter has radically different missile systems, electronic warfare systems, and guidance systems. With all its innovations, the F-35 today needs a new engine or an improved engine.

The Pratt & Whitney F135 is the engine that powers today’s F-35. But among political circles and lobbyists in Washington, supported by a part of the industry, the opinion that the engine should be replaced with a new one – cutting-edge technology such as a third stream of air to improve fuel efficiency and thrust – is increasingly creeping in.

Pratt & Whitney vs. General Electric Aviation

Pratt & Whitney and General Electric Aviation have developed new adaptive engines that fall into the “cutting edge technology” category thanks to their participation in the Adaptive Engine Transition Program, known as AETP. But the opinion of the two companies differs completely.

The XA100 is General Electric Aviation’s adaptable engine that they are proposing to replace the F135. XA100 offers more jet’s thrust, more speed, greater range of the fighter, and last but not least in importance [even in one of the first places] – its cooling i.e. the engine heat control, which will allow the F-35 to operate much better with modern systems integrated into the fighter [missile systems, electronic warfare and guidance systems, etc.].

Cutting-edge engine: third stream of air may power US F-35 - XA100 engine
Photo credit: GE Aviations

Pratt & Whitney doesn’t think so. According to them, the integration of a new engine into a structure already developed according to another engine will be a mistake that puts the functioning of the fighter as an unknown quantity. However, Pratt & Whitney also has their version of an adaptive engine – the XA101. Its performance is more than good, and the company believes that it is this engine that will power the Air Force’s next-generation fighter.

Pratt & Whitney is mostly concerned about performance issues with a new adaptive engine. The company says that if the new engine fails in the air, it means a threat to the life of the pilot and the safety of the equipment, and if the failure is found on the ground, it means taking down the entire fleet of F-35s to fix the failure, like the Air Force and the US Navy as well as F-35 customers. It is for these reasons that Pratt & Whitney is proposing improvements to the F135, which is already a “proven operating organism” and the appearance of problems exists but will take very little time to fix, compared to a new adaptive engine.

The Pentagon has no time

A problem already exists. The very debate whether to equip the F-35 with a new adaptive cutting-edge engine with a third stream of air, or to upgrade the F135 is time that the Pentagon cannot afford because a decision must be made, and the political and the international situation seems to be changing faster than expected.

“The longer they hold off on this decision, the more F-35s are going to be built that are going to need to be modified to handle these engines,” Grazier, a military analyst for the Project on Government Oversight and critic of the program said. “The sooner they can make the decision about this, the better off everyone’s really going to be because any delay is going to drive up future costs.”

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