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F-35 Engine Upgrade, Redesign Gets Funded

Just in Time for Block 4, the Finicky F135 Gets Some Much Needed Polishing

Pratt & Whitney has gotten full funding in the new fiscal year 2024 Defense Appropriations bill for an F135 Engine Core Upgrade, a program that will "modernize the F-35's propulsion system to increase durability and fully-enable Block 4 capabilities and beyond starting in 2029."

It's somewhat funny to see the aircraft needs "modernization" so soon after the F-35 model gained full production approval, but after more than a decade in service, the F135's power plant has shown it has a few too many weaknesses. Issues with unforeseen harmonic resonance, premature wear on turbine blades, unauthorized Chinese components, and more. Those in the F-35 program have known that it could use an upgrade to rectify its problems and prepare it for a few decades of proper service, the price tag isn't easy to swallow. They've gotten its through though, now that Pratt & Whitney are contracted to build out the engine to be compatible with the upcoming Block 4 mod.

The funding sets aside almost $500 million just for the F135's ECU, allowing Pratt & Whitney to really go to town on the system. The final result will be something that can fit in the A, B, and C model of F-35s, be retrofittable to older Blocks of aircraft, and universally available to all in the program. (Given the breadth of that mission, it wouldn't be surprising if this price tag, like pretty much everything in the F-35 program, sees some bloat in the future too.) The rest of the funding is expected to go into the F130 Engine Core Upgrade itself, which should finally iron out all the wrinkles on the hardware side there. On top of the engine revisions, the appropriations bill will grant continued support for a similar program, too, allowing Pratt & Whitney to continue work on the XA103 it has designed to compete in the Next-Generation Adaptive Propulsion program.

"This bill will allow Pratt & Whitney to deliver the current and future propulsion capabilities that will keep the United States and its allies on the cutting edge of fighter engine technology," said Jill Albertelli, president of Pratt & Whitney Military Engines. "We are incredibly thankful to our congressional allies for their steadfast commitment to supporting these programs."

"We are thankful that Congress has embraced and enacted the Defense Department's decision to upgrade the F135 with the Engine Core Upgrade, the lowest-risk, most cost-effective solution to modernizing the F-35," said Jeff Shockey, senior vice president, RTX government relations. "We are fortunate to enjoy continued bipartisan and bicameral support and leadership from our congressional advocates on this critical capability for the warfighter; particularly Sen. Susan Collins, Rep. Rosa DeLauro, and many other members that continue to be staunch advocates of the F135 program."

FMI www.prattwhitney.com


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