Cutting-edge engine: third stream of air may power US F-35

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WASHINGTON — America’s fifth-generation stealth fighter F-35 and a symbol of technological progress and combat capability of the US Air Force needs improvements – a conclusion that unites the opinion of both the military [the Pentagon] and industry. The US does not rule out a war with China, and therefore the eyes are focused on the power of the F-35.

Photo credit: Twitter

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 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.

Photo credit: GE Aviations

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.].

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.

Photo credit: Pratt & Whitney

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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