And the JSF Alternate Engine War Begins, Again

Well, it looks like backers of GE-Rolls Royce’s F136 alternate engine for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter may have more ammo to renew their campaign to get the Pentagon to buy the engine amidst news that Pratt & Whitney’s F135 engine’s “cost performance” does not make Ashton Carter, the Pentagon’s top weapons buyer happy.

Apparently, Carter told House lawmakers yesterday that he isn’t happy with cost growth he sees in both the F135 engine and the overall F-35 program. This comes after the Pentagon restructured the F-35 program and cut all cash for the F136 engine.  The DoD has long wanted to kill the F136, claiming that short term development costs are too high to justify the long-term savings generated by having a second engine. GE-Rolls and their allies on Capitol Hill claim the competition between the F135 and F136 will ensure higher-quality engines and keep prices down.

Pratt officials insist their engine is on plan to meet the DoD’s cost and delivery requirements.

It looks like this is the beginning of a new round of fighting to keep the second engine alive, with several lawmakers jumping back into the fray, including House Armed Services Committee Chairman, Buck McKeon, R-Calif. According to Politico, McKeon wants to make sure that “competition remains in the Joint Strike Fighter program.”


  • Chops

    They should continue development of the F136 engine then do a head to head competition with Pratt and Whitneys engine.Either way it can’t hurt to have a backup in case something goes wrong somewhere down the line.

  • Forrest Cantrell

    And at what cost for something that “can’t hurt”?

    • Chops

      If you look at jet aircraft in general [commercial and military] they just about all have 2 or 3 different engines from different manufacturers.Even if they cancel the F136 engine eventually someone will build a new engine for the JSF–then all the F136 work will be re-done by someone else at a much higher cost.

  • Nick

    I really fail to see how more competition can be a bad thing. Sure it will cost more money up front funding the development of a second engine, but if you use it as a hedge against gouging or cost explosion it’s probably a reasonable investment. Then again I know little about this whole ordeal, that’s just common sense talking.

    • Jeff

      Its about overall cost… whether you buy one engine or both if you make an investment into two engine systems on the basis of saving money the savings required to justify the parallel efforts is effectively doubled. Its a matter of alternative costs; what costs more paying the extra R&D money for a second engine or paying some amount more for a single engine. For example as it is, given the number of engines that are planned to be purchased… and the original estimate cost per engine… the end result of F136 has to be a overall cost reduction of $4-5M per engine… on engines that were suppose to cost $10M a piece, to justify the dollars spent. That would be break even to actually save money means the saving has to be greater.

      Playing devils advocate here but you should consider that cost explosions might have been avoided if the same R&D money spent on either engine had been diverted to the other earlier on.

      I really think the only way to justify either engine is matter of performance and not savings.

  • FtD

    I’m utterly amazed by the single minded approach from Gates that he puts all the eggs into one basket with absolutely no way to turn, no space for growth & no plan B whatsoever.
    Crying out loud this is THE single most expensive/important fighter jet program ever taken in history with no backup & no contingency plan at all??? No wonder all the so called ‘partners’ are reconsidering their options.

    • blight

      Most jets stick to one engine and are only re-engined later in life. Two engines this early is an uncommon practice, and makes early integration somewhat difficult.

  • Flyright

    Blight is right. Two administrations, the US Senate and the House of Representatives have all spoken loudly and clearly — no need to waste taxpayer dollars on developing (note not flying) an extra engine for the F-35. With a tightening budget it just makes no sense. And why is it that GE can’t take no for an answer. It’s not as if they aren’t building lots of other jet engines for the US military. It’s time to cut losses and move on.

  • IMBtrThnU

    Really? No need for a competition? So we fail like we did in the development of the F-16? PW sucked enough to warrant an engine from GE. It has been proven that the engine competition will save money in the long term. History is repeating itself right now…PW is failing to produce a quality product on an aircraft with only one engine…but all you care about it right now huh?

    • Chops

      Agree 100%–like I said earlier most planes have at least 2 different manufacturers supplying engines–the F16 is a prime example–also consider that F16 & F15 engines are interchangeable–what a cost savings that must be.Eventually it will prove out that devoloping both engines was a wise decision money wise and performance wise.