GE still touting new engine as Air Force moves away from AETP for F-35

By Shelley K. Mesch / March 13, 2023

General Electric doubled down Monday on its belief that it has the best solution for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter engine update despite the Air Force's decision not to move forward with an Adaptive Engine Transition Program.

“This budget fails to consider rising geopolitical tensions and the need for revolutionary capabilities that only the XA100 engine can provide by 2028,” a GE spokesman said in an email.

The Air Force decided to pursue an engine core upgrade to add the power needed for the F-35’s Block 4 software upgrades, putting $254 million in the fiscal year 2024 budget request for the ECU, Air Force Assistant Secretary for Financial Management and Comptroller Kristyn Jones said Monday.

Pratt & Whitney, a subsidiary of Raytheon Technologies, makes the current F135 engines and has pushed for the ECU option as a more timely and cost-effective option for the future fleet. GE has said it could meet the same 2028 timeline that Pratt touts for ECU.

“The F135 ECU saves billions, which ensures a record quantity of F-35s can be procured,” Jill Albertelli, president of military engines at Pratt, said in an email. “It also ensures funding will be available to develop 6th generation propulsion for the Air Force’s Next Generation Air Dominance Platform.”

Funds from previous budgets that went into AETP haven’t gone to waste, Jones said, as that technology could move forward the Next Generation Adaptive Propulsion program.

“We do plan to leverage a lot of capabilities that were part of the AETP prototype for efficiency, thrust, platform-level power and thermal management,” she said, “so it was not necessarily a sunk cost.”

Both Pratt and GE, along with Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman received indefinite delivery, indefinite quantity contracts totaling up to $975 million for NGAP.

In a statement making the company’s case, the GE spokesman referred to a letter signed by nearly 50 lawmakers on both sides of the aisle who supported the engine replacement.

On the other hand, three dozen other lawmakers signed a letter opposing the full replacement.