As F-35 testing accelerates, so do the milestones for Pratt & Whitney’s F135, the sole engine powering the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. Significant progress is worth noting in three crucial areas: increased testing, production deliveries and cost containment.
First, completed test hours now stand at roughly 13,500 out of a planned total of 14,832. The remaining hours will be logged this year now that all 11 ground test and 18 flight test engines have been delivered. Following the dramatically flawless first F-35B vertical landing in March, initial service release tests for the STOVL version have begun, marking the final phase of development for the F135.
Second, the completion of engine development on the CTOL/CV variant was marked by the official certification by the F-35 Joint Program Office on January 31, 2010. The first four CTOL/CV production engines have been delivered to the customer with 18 more to come before the end of 2010. This rate of roughly two engines per month should double in 2012 to four per month for low-rate initial production (LRIP) Lot 5.
Finally, this undeniably positive news about the F135 was reinforced during Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) testimony given recently, On April 13, U.S. Navy and Air Force officials recognized cost reduction progress on the F135 and reiterated opposition to the F136 alternative engine.
In prepared remarks delivered to the SASC’s Airland Subcommittee, U.S. Navy Vice Admiral David Architzel and his colleagues stated, “The Joint Assessment Team assessed that the F135 engine cost goals are achievable with the proper investment in cost reduction initiatives. The focus in the coming year will be to ensure the engine manufacturer and the government implement the necessary efforts to achieve the cost goals. The current LRIP 4 engine proposal shows that the engine manufacturer has begun to reduce cost in alignment with the JAT assessments and recommendations.”
U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. Mark D. Shackelford and Maj. Gen. Johnny A. Weida said, “Continued funding for the F136 engine carries cost penalties to both the F135 and F136 engines in the form of reduced production line learning curves and inefficient economic order quantities. The department concludes that maintaining a single engine supplier provides the best balance of cost and risk. We believe the risks associated with a single source engine supplier are manageable due to improvements in engine technology and do not outweigh the investment required to fund a competitive alternate engine.”
When asked later in the hearing about the projected additional $2.9 billion associated with continued F136 development, Shackelford added, “Given the precious resources we have, we're better spending the money by continuing to refine the F135 and press forward with that as the engine for the F-35.”