WASHINGTON — The U.S. Air Force on Friday awarded contracts worth up to nearly $4.9 billion to five companies to develop prototypes of an adaptive engine for its next-generation fighter jets.
The service awarded General Electric of Cincinnati, Ohio; Pratt & Whitney of East Hartford, Connecticut; Boeing of St. Louis, Missouri; Lockheed Martin of Palmdale, California; and Northrop Grumman of Palmdale, California, each an indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity contract worth up to $975 million to carry out the prototype phase of the Next Generation Adaptive Propulsion program, according to the Defense Department’s contract announcements.
The awards mark a broadening of the adaptive engine market, which until now has been dominated by GE Aviation and Raytheon Technologies-owned Pratt & Whitney. Those companies have been developing engines under the Adaptive Engine Transition Program, which the Air Force has pursued as a way to produce a new replacement engine for the F-35 joint strike fighter.
The Air Force said work on these prototype engines — including design, analysis, rig testing, prototype engine testing and weapon system integration — is expected to be done by July 2032.
Adaptive engines of the kind being developed by Pratt & Whitney and General Electric Aviation use advanced technologies like a third stream of air to improve fuel efficiency, thrust and range.
Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall told lawmakers in April an adaptive engine, if used in the F-35, would offer substantially increased power that would allow it to operate modernized capabilities.
The Air Force’s decision came about a week after service officials expressed concern that not replacing the F-35′s engine with an adaptive version could lead to the collapse of the advanced propulsion industrial base.
Stephen Losey covers leadership and personnel issues as the senior reporter for Air Force Times. He comes from an Air Force family, and his investigative reports have won awards from the Society of Professional Journalists. He has traveled to the Middle East to cover Air Force operations against the Islamic State.
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