New engine for the F-35 by 2020?
That's the plan:
It has been almost three decades since the U.S. last set out to develop an all-new combat-aircraft engine, but more than 50 years since the turbojet gave way to the turbofan. Now the U.S. is embarking on development of a new generation of fighter engine with an architecture it considers as fundamental an advance as the turbofan was over the turbojet.
Being part of a research effort that could produce the dominant combat-aircraft engine of coming decades is critical for industry. So General Electric and Pratt & Whitney are breathing easier after being selected by the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) for the Adaptive Engine Technology Development (AETD) program to mature fuel-efficient, high-thrust powerplants for post-2020 upgrades to the Lockheed Martin F-35 and future “sixth-generation” combat aircraft.
The new engine will combine fuel efficiency and increased power:
AFRL calculates adaptive technology will improve engine fuel efficiency by 25% over the F135 powering the F-35, increasing aircraft combat radius by 25-30% and persistence by 30-40%. The engine could also help address the anti-access/area-denial challenges posed by a potential conflict with an near-peer adversary such as China, says AFRL. This could be achieved via increasing supersonic-cruise radius by 50% and reducing the aerial-refueling tanker burden by 30-74%.
Under the 48-month AETD program, GE and Pratt will design engines with 25% lower SFC, but 5% more military (dry) power and 10% higher maximum (reheat) thrust than the F135. “We will take that engine through preliminary design review,” says Reed. The engine must be sized to fit the F-35 with “only modest modifications,” he says.
An ambitious but achievable program. And one which will make criticism of the F-35's combat radius, etc. moot (most are presently ill-informed as it is).