With all due respect to the late Gene Roddenberry, Isaac Asimov and Carl Sagan (to name a few luminaries), there are some parts of the universe where space is definitely finite.
One of those dimensionally challenged domains is the interior of an aircraft carrier. Inefficient space utilization simply isn’t an option, yet that’s what would happen if the Navy were forced to stock spare parts and tools for two completely different engines powering the F-35C fleet.
The Pentagon’s Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Gary Roughead went on record repeatedly last summer against the F136 alternative engine, including telling Congressional Quarterly last June, “Space is at a premium. Therefore you can put me solidly in the one-engine camp.” The same concern is even more acute aboard the U.S. Marine Corps’ amphibious assault ships, the future seaborne home of the F-35B STOVL version.
In testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee on February 25, 2010, Admiral Roughead reiterated his concerns.
“One can look at a carrier and see a very large ship, but when that ship is deployed we have things packed in almost every nook and cranny in order to provide that reliability and responsiveness,” he said. “So having to stock two different types of engines is just not practical for us.”
So, if F-35B and F-35C aircraft destined for the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps will be powered by the Pratt & Whitney F135 – based on the clearest of Pentagon intentions stated above, plus the insurmountable development and production lead the F135 has over the F136 – then the latter team must surely be pinning their hopes on the U.S. Air Force and select foreign customers.
This merging reality completely undermines the so-called “competition” argument on at least two fronts.
First, at least two of the three U.S. services will have a single engine fleet, powered by the F135 that continues to retire risk as we’ve previously discussed, while the F136 gets pushed farther to the right due to developmental and budgetary difficulties. The reliability and safety of the F135 is a known quantity, further validated with every hour of accumulating flight time, compared to the still developmental F136. Moreover, history has proven that the best way to introduce a single engine fighter into the fleet is to first mature the engine on a two engine airplane. The F119 powering the twin-engine F-22 has done just that, accumulating more than 275,000 hours and is the most successful fighter engine ever fielded. This proven F119 platform forms the core of the F135. The successful performance of the F135 is built on the long legacy of safety, maturity and unmatched performance established by the F119.
The other important issue remains cost. We’ll give Admiral Roughead the final word, quoting again from his February 25th testimony, “The costs associated with the alternate engine in my opinion would simply continue to pressurize a program that is already being pressurized for a variety of reasons. So from the perspective of the Navy and the support that I render to the Marine Corps and their Joint Strike Fighter…my recommendation has been and will continue to be one engine, because that’s what serves us the best.”