The Pentagon is mulling whether the Air Force should develop a new engine to replace Pratt & Whitney’s F135 propulsion system on its F-35 fighter. This is an awful idea. The existing engine is the safest, most reliable fighter engine in history and fully capable of supporting future upgrades to the aircraft. Its built-in growth margin and modular design can accommodate performance enhancements for a fraction of what it would cost to develop a new engine. Beyond that, the new engine would introduce unnecessary risks into the fighter program and not enter serial production for many years. Buying an all-new engine would bifurcate the global fleet of F-35s between two different propulsions systems, driving up sustainment costs due to divergent support requirements. Allies have shown little interest in acquiring a replacement engine, and there would be substantial opportunity costs both at home and abroad in terms of funding more urgent modernization needs. The simple fact is that the Air Force does not need a new engine, and trying to buy one would complicate efforts to revitalize the tactical-aircraft fleet. I have written a commentary for Forbes here.
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