The makers of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) engine and a proposed alternative engine have teamed with the Pentagon to develop new heat resistant engine components projected to save billions of dollars in the purchase and maintenance of the engines, according to a Pentagon report to Congress.
"The General Electric Rolls-Royce Fighter Engine Team developed and implemented third-stage, low pressure turbine vanes made from ceramic matrix composites" to give the airplanes more thrust, range and fuel efficiency due to their lighter weight and increased heat tolerances, according to the Pentagon's Annual Industrial Capabilities Report to Congress, which was published in May.
The composite vanes were developed as part of a Pentagon project to develop lightweight, high-strength composite parts that can withstand the incredibly high temperatures found in the "hot section" of a jet engine, according to the report. Other members of the team to develop such parts included the U.S. Air Force, Navy and Pratt & Whitney.
The performance increases expected to be brought about by the project are "projected to decrease production and maintenance costs by over $3 billion" for the JSF's Pratt & Whitney-built engine, known as the F135, as well as its controversial alternate engine made by GE and Rolls Royce, known as the F136.
These savings are also expected to apply to GE's T700 turbine engine used on military helicopters such as the UH-60 Black Hawk, AH-64 Apache and AH-1W Super Cobra, according to the document.
GE Spokesman Rick Kennedy confirmed that the company is including the composite design in its engine. Pratt & Whitney officials were not available for comment at press time.
These projected savings could be a boon to many lawmakers who argue the F136 is critical to ensuring better performance and potential cost savings from the engine-makers. It is also a key hedge protecting against a failure in Pratt's engine from grounding the entire U.S. F-35 fleet of 2,443 planes, contend supporters of the F136. Last month, U.S. lawmakers inserted $485 million for the continued development of the F136 into the 2011 defense authorization bill.
The White House and Pentagon are staunchly opposed to the second engine, saying it could add nearly $3 billion to the troubled F-35 program. Pentagon officials say that, while competition would be nice, the alternative engine program does not guarantee sufficient benefits to risk additional cost hikes or developmental problems.
U.S. Air Force Secretary Michael Donley has referred to the second engine as "another rock" on top of the F-35 program.
President Barack Obama has threatened to veto any defense legislation containing funds for the F136.