Congress ought to direct the Pentagon to interrupt out the F-35’s propulsion improve from the remainder of this system to higher to trace its scope, schedule, and price, the Authorities Accountability Workplace urged in a brand new Might 30 report.
In the meantime, engine-maker Pratt & Whitney added its personal suggestion that the F-35 Joint Program Workplace resolve shortly the way it needs to satisfy the fighter’s rapidly-growing energy and cooling wants, so the corporate can regulate its deliberate Engine Core Improve to higher mesh with these necessities.
The Pentagon has beforehand declined GAO’s suggestion to interrupt out the engine improve aspect of the F-35 program as a separate endeavor, which is why the GAO is now urging Congress to direct the change.
Value will increase and issues with the F-35 airframe and engine are usually masked underneath the present association, GAO mentioned, and the magnitude of these value overruns and schedule points, if judged individually, might incur Nunn-McCurdy breaches—underneath the Nunn-McCurdy legislation of 1982, if a program has value will increase past sure benchmarks, it receives added scrutiny or could also be robotically canceled.
Different GAO suggestions associated to the F-35’s engine embrace defining long-term necessities for the powerplant.
The GAO agreed with the F-35 Joint Program Workplace’s enterprise case evaluation that discovered Pratt & Whitney’s ECU is a greater and fewer dangerous strategy to the F-35’s energy wants than integrating a brand new engine from the Air Drive’s Adaptive Engine Transition Program (AETP), primarily due to the uncertainty and better integration value of a brand new engine. The AETP engines—GE Aerospace’s XA100 and Pratt’s XA101—additionally can’t match the brief takeoff/vertical touchdown F-35B or carrier-landing model F-35C with out intensive further improvement, the GAO discovered.
Air Drive Secretary Frank Kendall has mentioned the problem of integrating an AETP engine with these fashions was the principal motive the service—in live performance with Pentagon management–dropped plans for the brand new engine, though value was additionally an enormous issue.
“You may’t do every part you need to do,” Kendall advised the Senate Armed Providers Committee in April.
Pratt’s F135 director Jennifer Latka mentioned on a Might 31 name with reporters that the corporate feels the GAO report “validates the Division’s choice to pursue the Engine Core Improve on the prevailing F135.”
However whereas the GAO report famous the F-35 workplace has accomplished the enterprise case concerning a brand new engine, it additionally identified the Pentagon “has not totally outlined the facility and cooling necessities the engine and associated elements might want to assist” Block 4 capabilities by 2035.
Particularly, the Joint Program Workplace has but to totally assess the price and technical dangers of various engine improve and thermal administration choices, the report said.
Pratt would really like the Pentagon to finish that work, Latka mentioned, so it will probably decide the way it needs to satisfy the F-35’s elevated wants from its Energy and Thermal Administration System (PTMS), which supplies cooling for avionics, radar, and different gear, in addition to emergency energy, cockpit conditioning, some electrical energy, and extra.
Pratt officers have lengthy argued the prevailing PTMS and engine can present sufficient cooling for the F-35’s methods, however doing so requires extra warmth and stress on the engine, growing upkeep and price. Now, Latka mentioned, it will be greatest from a design and improvement perspective for the F-35 Joint Program Workplace to resolve its PTMS wants quickly to allow them to be aligned with the Engine Core Improve.
For its half, the GAO report states that the present PTMS is already insufficient to satisfy the F-35’s cooling wants, and the deliberate Block 4 improve will place a heavier burden on the system. Operating the engine hotter to provide extra cooling is “lowering the lifetime of the engine,” in accordance with the report.
This downside was recognized again in 2013, and Lockheed needed to vary the F135’s design then to yield extra air strain from the PTMS, “however program officers decided it was too late to revamp the engine given the price and schedule results” of doing so, the GAO reported.
“Program officers determined to proceed with the F135 engine’s unique design with the understanding that there could be elevated put on and tear, extra upkeep, and lowered life on the engine as a result of it will want to supply extra air strain to the PTMS than its design meant” the audit company mentioned.
“The misalignment of necessities with the engine and PTMS illustrates why you will need to totally perceive the proposed designs initially of an acquisition, previous to committing to improvement,” the GAO noticed.
The GAO is projecting the F-35’s present cooling system received’t be capable of meet the fighter’s future wants past 2029, notably these deliberate for Block 4. Latka argued that isn’t precisely true however agreed the elevated cooling will degrade the F135’s service life, requiring alternative or heavy, unplanned upkeep prices.
It’s “extra an artwork than a science” understanding precisely when the Engine Core Improve and PTMS, that are separate methods, will turn out to be crucial wants, Latka mentioned, however she urged the Pentagon to get on with each efforts as shortly as it will probably.
“It’s actually necessary to know that [the JPO doesn’t] have a Block 4 plan out to 2035,” Latka mentioned. “They’ve increments of capabilities which can be funded within the subsequent few years which can be approaching to the jet, after which they’ve some extra thought-out concepts of what might come on to the jet …after which there are desires of what we might placed on the jet approach into the longer term.”
The F-35’s excessive sustainment have been a headache for the Pentagon and a supply of controversy in Congress for a while now, and the GAO is predicting an additional $38 billion in predicted life-cycle prices. Latka couldn’t say how a lot of that might be averted by Pratt’s engine improve and a brand new PTMS.
The GAO report additionally said that late engine deliveries are affecting the F-35’s manufacturing line, together with a chart displaying that 97 % of engines delivered in 2022 have been late, up from 46 % late in 2017.
Latka disputed that a part of the report, saying it was primarily based on outdated knowledge. Deliveries of F135 engines and F-35s have been paused for a number of months to analyze a December 2022 crash of an F-35B attributable to an engine downside, and through that point, Pratt’s buffer of additional engine ready at airframe-maker Lockheed Martin shrank. Now, nevertheless, it’s again to regular, Latka mentioned.
In a press release responding to the GAO report, the JPO mentioned it’s waging a “conflict on value” within the F-35 program, that new international locations are indicating their confidence in this system by signing as much as purchase the jet, and that the JPO “seems ahead to working with the GAO and program stakeholders” on its suggestions.