Paris: Lockheed Martin is officially supporting an alternative to the legacy F135 engine that powers the F-35, the head of the company’s aeronautics division said in an interview at the Paris Air Show.
“I’m going to advocate, and I do advocate, for [the Adaptive Engine Transition Program, or AETP], another engine,” said Greg Ulmer, Lockheed’s executive vice president of aeronautics. “I think some of the approaches today are very short-sighted and not considering a longer-term view” for the F-35, he added.
Ulmer’s backing of a new engine for the Joint Strike Fighter stems in part from its decades of remaining service life, which will include future upgrades. “Let’s put as much margin in the airplane as we can today, such that in the future, I don’t have to put another motor in. I don’t have to bring new power and thermal management cooling into the airplane,” he said.
The advocacy of the jet’s prime contractor on behalf of AETP is a boon to GE Aerospace, which has been pushing for an adaptive engine option, and is conversely a blow to incumbent engine manufacturer Pratt & Whitney, which is seeking to continue its lock on powering the tri-variant fleet.
Both engine manufacturers have designed prototypes through AETP, which would be expected to compete in the event that an adaptive engine solution is ultimately pursued, but Pratt, as the incumbent engine provider, stands to benefit from keeping the F135 in place and improving it through its preferred Engine Core Upgrade (ECU).
Despite the Air Force’s decision to shutter AETP as part of its fiscal 2024 budget request, Ulmer insisted that interest in AETP prevails in the halls of the Pentagon.
It’s unclear how the fighter’s international buyers might react to a decision to re-engine the aircraft with the pricey adaptive power plant, which Ulmer described as a “trade” that each customer will have to weigh depending on their planned requirements. Since the adaptive engine won’t fit with the vertical takeoff and landing variant of the fighter, for example, Ulmer reasoned that the ECU will be available to those customers who don’t want to field an adaptive engine.
“If they go to an [adaptive engine], they’ll have to put whatever those deltas are in place to support that,” he said. “But it’ll be capability driven, in my view.”
Ulmer said that $150 million would be enough to keep the program alive until next year, when the F-35 Joint Program Office (JPO) is expected to formalize its requirements for power and cooling out to the end of the aircraft’s service life.