The House Armed Services Committee is proposing replacement of the F-35 fighter’s engine with a more advanced powerplant beginning in 2027. Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall, himself an engineer, says he’s interested if the change is affordable. It probably isn’t. First of all, the proposed replacements–rival engines being developed by GE and Pratt & Whitney–are nowhere near ready for production. Second, at least one of them won’t work on Marine Corps F-35Bs and might not make sense on Navy F-35Cs either. Third, if the sea services take a pass, then the Air Force will have to pay the entire cost of development in a flat budget environment. Fourth, with or without the sea services, the Air Force would find itself saddled with an F-35 fleet that is half equipped with the current engine, half equipped with the successor; that means paying for parallel supply chains, maintenance procedures, etc. The performance gains from a newer engine might be sizable, but the costs look too daunting to make the changeover affordable. I have written a commentary for Forbes here.
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