JUST IN: Lawmakers Aim to Increase Investment in Aircraft Engine Tech

By Jon Harper
Adaptive Engine Transition Program concept art

Air Force artwork

Congress intends to boost investment in military aircraft engine technology to increase industry competition and improve readiness, the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee said Aug. 31.

Engine shortages have been plaguing the F-35 joint strike fighter program of late, which has reduced aircraft availability.

“They are burning out faster and taking longer to fix than we expected,” HASC Chairman Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., said during remarks at a Brookings Institution event.

The F-35 currently uses Pratt & Whitney’s F135 engine. In 2011, the Pentagon canceled plans for a second engine built by GE, leaving one supplier for the Defense Department’s largest acquisition program. The Air Force, Marine Corps and Navy are all buying variants of the fifth-generation fighter, as are many U.S. allies and partners.

Pratt & Whitney has been in talks with the F-35 Joint Program Office about upgrading the engines, according to Defense News. Meanwhile, the Air Force is pursuing new tech that could be integrated into its future aircraft fleet.

The Adaptive Engine Transition Program, or ATEP, “aims to produce prototypes of three-stream adaptive engines that are lightweight and flight ready,” according to an Air Force description of the effort. “By relying on a third stream of air that can be dynamically modulated between the engine’s core and the bypass stream, an adaptive engine can provide increased thrust during combat conditions and increased fuel efficiency during cruise conditions. Fielding such engines would enable air power with increased range, reduced tanker demand, and additional cooling air for thermal management.”

AETP leverages efforts from the Adaptive Versatile Engine Technology program and the Adaptive Engine Technology Demonstration program, it noted.

“They're in the process of developing a new engine, and some of this is contemplated for the NGAD and other future platforms,” Smith said, referring to the Next Generation Air Dominance program that the service is pursuing. “We [in Congress] are going to up the investment in that.”

New engines could potentially be used in the F-35 as well, he added.

“We have the ability now, I think, to create engine competition going forward,” Smith said. “We are going to push engine competition because that's one of the big things” that needs to be addressed.

On Aug. 30, Smith released his chairman’s mark for the fiscal year 2022 National Defense Authorization Act. It calls for authorizing increased funding for the acceleration of the Air Force’s Adaptive Engine Transition Program propulsion system for tactical fighter aircraft, and supports the Defense Department’s budget request for the Army’s Improved Turbine Engine Program to power the service’s aviation fleet, according to a summary of the mark.

Additionally, it would require the undersecretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment to submit to the congressional defense committees an acquisition strategy for continued development, integration and operational fielding of the AETP propulsion system into the Air Force’s fleet of F-35A aircraft beginning in fiscal year 2027. The strategy would be due no later than 14 days after President Joe Biden submits his fiscal year 2023 budget request. Presidents typically submit their budget requests to Congress in February, although they have sometimes been delayed in recent years.


Topics: Air Power

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