The U.S. Dept. of Defense assigned another $66 million to Pratt & Whitney as part of the ongoing F135 Engine Core Upgrade project. The new award brings the current total for that multiyear effort to $180 million, according to jet-engine builder.
The F135 is the afterburning turbofan power source for the F-35 single-engine, Joint Strike Fighter jets in service with the U.S. Air Force, U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps, and more than a dozen allied defense forces. The Engine Core Upgrade is P&W’s plan to improve the propulsion system capabilities for all three variants of the F135 turbofan engine, in anticipation of the Department’s plan to upgrade the three different F-35 aircraft models.
The DoD’s F-35 modernization, which is called the Block 4 upgrade, is largely focused on electronic hardware and software advances that will facilitate dozens of new weapons systems. Before the Block 4 update can be implemented, the jets’ core processor and memory will be updated in an effort called Technology Refresh 3 (TR3.)
According to Pratt, the Engine Core Upgrade will be “the fastest, most cost-effective, and lowest-risk path to Block 4 capability for all global F-35 operators. It is optimized for all three F-35 variants and will yield $40 billion in lifecycle cost savings by avoiding disruptive and costly air vehicle changes and leveraging the current global sustainment infrastructure.”
Lockheed Martin, the developer and manufacturer of the F-35, had been reported to favor an alternative engine to power the Block 4 F-35s, but the choice for P&W’s ECU approach was made by DoD and announced with the White House’s newest budget proposal. Because the ECU will not necessitate the time and cost of redesigning the F-35 airframe to house a new engine, it’s been described as a “drop-in” update for the propulsion system.
In its latest announcement, Pratt noted that Lockheed has confirmed its commitment to the government’s decision on the ECU.
Nearly 950 F-35 jets have been built since the program’s inception in 2001. The DoD has already authorized ongoing production of new F-35 aircraft into the 2030s.