DT Poll: A Contest for New Bomber’s Engines?

In case you didn’t see this, it looks like Congress is trying to introduce JSF style engine competition into the Air Force’s next effort to build a high-performance aircraft; the “2018” or “next generation” or “daddy of the long range strike family” or whatever you want to call it bomber.

Apparentlly, House Armed Services Committee members, the same group who fought hardest (besides GE and Rolls Royce) to keep the F136 alternate engine for the F-35 alive are now trying to mandate that there be a competition to build the engines for the Air Force’s new stealth bomber.

Pentagon officials are pushing back, saying such competition is unnecessary since the whole point of the reincarnated bomber program is to use existing technology as a way of keeping costs down and fielding the plane ASAP. This makes some sense considering that Pratt &  Whitney is already working on versions of F119 and F135 engines used in the F-22 Raptor and F-35, respectively, that company executives have said could be used on the bomber.

However, HASC officials have long been loath to allow Pratt to develop the F135 without competition from the GE-Rolls F136, saying the contest will help ensure Pratt delivers a better, cheaper product. A driving factor in their insistence on competition may be the Great Engine War of the 1980s. That contest saw GE commissioned to build the F110 alternate engine for the F-16 after Pratt’s F100 engine had serious reliability issues in its early days in the F-15 and then saw its costs spike when it was used in the F-16. The battle royale over the engines led to lowered costs and higher performance out of both companies.

So why not have a competition involving existing engine technology? Use the F135 and F136 as the basis for the new bomber’s engine contest. That way you use existing tech while forcing the price down even further. Remember, budget constraints mean that keeping costs low and performance high are going to be key to any big ticket program’s survival in the coming years.

So readers, what do you think?

  • brian

    I am not sure all the money that would be spent on R&D to develop another competing engine would be less than the savings would get from a competition since the production run is likely to be very small. So unless you know for sure that the savings would be huge, than don’t do it.

  • Charles

    That this sounds a bit like corporate welfare.

    • PMI

      Keeping P&W alive by continually preventing them from needing to face competition is corporate welfare.

      There’s a reason they’re getting killed in the civilian engine market.

  • http://twitter.com/Brianckramer @Brianckramer

    How about we add a bomb-bay to the Bombardier Global Express and just skip the whole debacle?

    There are plenty of commercially available engines out there, why develop a whole new one?

    • EJ257

      If only it were that simple. I suggested a similar thing a while back for replacement of the B-52s with converted 777. I think someone actually said it would be easier to convert a C-17 for the role than a 777.

    • brian

      Alright I am game as long as your the one who has to fly it into enemy territory

    • SJE

      I don’t think that a Bombadier has to fly as high or operate under the same conditions. Civilian priorities are fuel economy and reliability, but they may not have to fly as high, or as fast, or have to suppress heat output suddenly.

  • http://twitter.com/Brianckramer @Brianckramer

    How many of our bombers have been hit by enemy fire in the past 25 years?

    • STemplar

      A 1700 lbs useful load is not sufficient to deploy any sort of weapons. The BGE is designed to haul a few CEOs and some sandwiches and nothing more.

      • STemplar

        Not that there aren’t viable commercial options for a simple stand off missile hauler, but not a corporate G ride jet. Develop some kind of air launched arclight type weapon with significant stand off range, and use an ER 787 and you have a viable missile carrier.

        • http://twitter.com/Earlydawn @Earlydawn

          Arclight is planned to be a precision intercontinental system, so I’m not sure that a airborne platform is necessary.

          • STemplar

            “The ArcLight program will design, build, and flight test a long range (> 2,000 nm) vehicle that carries a 100–200 lb payload(s). ArcLight is based on an SM-3 Block II booster stack, a hypersonic glider and is capable of being launched from a Mark 41 Vertical Launch System (VLS) tube. The development of the ArcLight system will enable high speed, long range weapons capable of engaging time critical targets and can be launched from Naval surface and sub-surface assets, and Naval/Air Force air assets.”

          • http://twitter.com/Earlydawn @Earlydawn

            There was talk of having them launched from California.

          • STemplar

            That was a conventional ICBM, which was the proposal of the larger global prompt strike program of which arclight was a part.

          • http://twitter.com/Earlydawn @Earlydawn

            I forgot about the VLS element. How great would that be?

          • STemplar

            Very much so. In fact IMO when you look at our weapon development we’ve been much more successful with advanced munitions than we have with delivery vehicles. Our ships, planes, and tanks are all over budget and under performing. Our bombs, bullets, and missiles are generally all doing pretty well. There have been missteps to be sure but in comparison they’ve done far better. I say leverage that strength onto existing platforms.

            My biggest point with the 787ER option is the range. It doesn’t need tanker support flying from Hawaii to launch an arclight specced weapon. That has got to have some logistical value.

    • http://www.facebook.com/greysave Gregory Savage

      I think 2 b52s where hit with sam during gw1.

    • ImBetterThanU

      It is retarded to think that another bomber will not be hit in the next 25 years…

      • OpenID

        Not that I’m encouraging our bombers to get hit, but do we REALLY want to be striving for a 0% possibility of our bombers being successfully destroyed in combat? The design trades that would be required for that strike me as unrealistically achievable, especially if we try to extend that rate out to the end of their operational lives.

        It seems more reasonable to me to attempt to establish a rate of loss in combat operations roughly equal to the anticipated rate of loss in non-combat operations: notice that the B-2 and F-22 have each experienced attrition, and that it was unrelated to combat. That fact would suggest that the planes are overly-refined for the conflicts that they’re being deployed in, a point that will lead to the claim by many that we should design & procure for the fights that we anticipate, which will lead to the worn-out speculation game that tends to bring out the worst of people who make a habit of posting on the internet.

        *I* think it is retarded to think that another bomber will not be destroyed via combat or peacetime ops in the next 25 years, and that no surplus or surfeit of design and cost will prevent that. There’s a Laffer Curve that applies to combat aircraft design, and we’d be better served to keep it in mind.

    • http://twitter.com/Earlydawn @Earlydawn

      We’ve owned the airspace in every theater that we used any of the non-stealthy strategic bombers in before we committed them. Flying B-52Hs and (to a lesser degree) B-1Bs into any kind of active air war zone would be a complete disaster. There’s a reason that the B-52s are now the primary heavy platform for standoff weapons now. It can’t survive. Neither could a converted passenger plane.

      The “passenger plane + bomb rack = savings!” idea gets kicked around every couple years. In reality, it doesn’t work that way. See here (SMSgt Mac’s blog), under “The Airliner Alliance”: http://elementsofpower.blogspot.com/2009/03/oppon…

      • http://twitter.com/Earlydawn @Earlydawn

        To be clear, the B-1B can operate as a conventional bomber in a hostile environment with low altitude mission profiles, but they’ll inevitably still suffer attrition.

      • STemplar

        I’m not proposing sending a commercial bomb hauler into contested air space. One carrying an arclight type weapon with a 2000 nmi range certainly is a reasonable option. A 787 ER has an 8000 nmi range and more than enough payload to carry a number of weapons that size on external hard points. They could be based in Hawaii, fly to launch points against targets in China and return to Hawaii without re-fueling.

        • http://twitter.com/Earlydawn @Earlydawn

          I’m primarily talking to Brian.

  • mikey

    i thought we were nearing the end of “manned” flight and combat aircraft.

    what will this plane be able to do in 10 years that a brilliant autonomous/remote drone or cruise missile cant…?

  • SJE

    How about we give them both $100million, tell them to go make the best engine, and agree to buy whoever give the best result: with the contractor the hook for any problems. The winner gets the spoils, and the loser gets stuck with a few billion in costs.

  • Nick

    Right now GE has (had) the monopoly on stealth engines for US bomber aircraft. New tech is always nice, but I doubt we can afford that. But that’s what the Air force will want. It’s always been what they wanted. And right now the F35 is got us in a fucking pit. I wound’t give the Air force jack squat for new planes for at least a decade or so after what trillion dollar baby if I were Gates. The B-2 is still more or less one of a kind physically and strategically, so talk of a new bomber should stay just that for now.

    But seeing how the F136 worked out, I have some doubts about that this thing is will be practical much less cost effective even after a economic rebound. For now the B-2 and even the B-1 are sufficient for what we’re fighting right now.


    The engines for the new bomber should be the Pratt & Whitney F119 engine used by the F-22 Raptor because of it’s performance efficiency as it would allow the new bomber to supercruise and achieve supersonic speed without afterburners which will increase flight range as this was what the F-35 JSF program should have adopted instead of trying to develop something new.

    • anon

      Using engines that allow a jet to supercruise does not mean the bomber will supercruise too.

  • IknowIT

    Select from existing engines. No new tech. Fast, cheap, and easy. Make sense?

  • Justin H

    Idealy use new engines, but only if they dont delay the bomber’s IOC or add an extra 20% to the overall cost .

  • martha simpson

    I don’t think DoD competes with any, it is exact work. please give the general and kernel the space he requires and absolute attention if we are able. Florida Fort Myers area is a kernels. We found that one. care to give other locations go ahead. Massachusetts area were the general is?

  • IFB

    To me, the most popular poll option of developing a new engine with existing technology is the least logical one, as it would be very similar in performance to a non-afterburning F135/136 but could cost billions to develop. If you are going to design a new engine you might as well make it worth the cost.

    • STemplar

      The question isn’t to design a new engine though, it’s to build a new engine. Which to me means take what you got and put together the best option you can now. Not design anything new.

    • anon

      F135 afterburns, but it doesn’t have supercruise. I assume you meant the latter…?

      • IFB

        What I meant is something utilizing variable cycle technology from the Air force’s Adaptive Versatile Engine Technology (ADVENT) program. The key advantage would be better specific fuel consumption but the downside is of course increased risk.

        Nothing seems to suggest the next bomber will be able to supercruise. I find it more likely that it will be slightly slower than legacy platforms for increased endurance, which has proven valuable in current conflicts. Lowering airspeed could also bring increased gains from laminar flow technology.

        STemplar, I agree 100%. In the end it comes down to what is the projected IOC for the bomber and will the new technology be ready early enough.

  • Black Owl

    Yes, lets create a second black hole for our tax payers dollars. The current one we have in the JSF is not enough.

    We should go with what is cheap and easy to make with the existing technology right now. Knowing the Air Force they are not going to choose the simple option.

    • anon

      What is your “cheap and easy”? The already debunked modified civilian airframe? Cruise missiles on ancient B-52s?

      • Black Owl

        I was actually referring solely to the engines.

  • SJE

    While a cool new bomber is all good, how about at least some retrofit on the older bombers. For example, if we are going to be flying B52s for a few more decades, why not fit a number of them with high by-pass turbofans like we use on jet liners: they are very reliable, use less avgas, and probably a lot cheaper to run overall. Similarly, why not see if there is a new engine for the B1.

    • anon

      Still need to address airframe aging. Can’t keep throwing new engines and avionics into old birds and expect them to hold on forever. B-52’s flew in the days when F-86s weren’t /that/ old. Now they fly when the teen series fighters are officially getting long in the tooth.

      • SJE

        I agree, but the AF wants to keep flying the B52 for a few more decades. They have already had avionics upgrades. Why not replace the engines too?

  • anon

    Using it as a missile platform turns us from a bomber force to a missile force. And missiles aren’t cheap. Then again, a properly designed bomb dropped from high-altitude can glide for considerable distances. It won’t do against an opponent with proper air defenses, but…

    • STemplar

      I also said we need a new bomber.

      Quite frankly we already are a missile force. Every single precision munition program we have is about stand off. We are slapping an ER on the back of every existing platform and taking them and extending them further. SLAM ER, JASSM ER, JSOW ER, even JDAMs are getting passive systems to extend their ranges.

      I’m just proposing the airliner option as a low cost way to launch a successful Arclight weapon in a responsive manner from secure facilities. If the Arclight works, it’s specs in an air launched mode don’t require that it be delivered by a high end penetrating vehicle. I’m not advocating and never wrote a thing about dropping bombs from a 787 or any other airliner.

      • crackedlenses

        If the goal is to produce a stand-off missile bank to “bombard” the enemy with (similar to a MRLS system), then yes, a converted airliner might work; if you are sending something in before you level their defences, that is where a super-stealth bomber would be useful. The B2 is great, but it won’t stay young for long…..

        • joe

          Actually, if you’re looking at dropping a shedload of rapidly moving metal out of your back end, it sounds more to me like a C130 would work. You can already rapidly drop pallets of cargo, just develop some palletized loads for your standoff ordnance that you can drop from (a drogue chute to pull it clear of the back end, and a weighted/finned launch tube or rail to orient it roughly right) and you probably wouldn’t even need to change the airframe.

  • Vstress

    The reason we have so many aircraft still flying is because we used new technology when they were built. There are no examples of (non-transport types) for which such an argument would work!

    Putting in an old engine, when we are consistently cutting back reliance on fossil fuels… is just plain stupid.

    Re-engining an aircraft is just too costly when they are internal engines.

    Let’s not make mistakes like the UK did with the Nimrod…

    It just isn’t cutting edge anymore, we need to grin and bear it and build something better. It will probably cost exactly the same anyway.

  • J Hughes

    Put supersonic fighter engines in a subsonic bomber?