WASHINGTON — General Electric, Rolls-Royce, and Pratt & Whitney will compete for the chance to outfit the U.S. Air Force’s B-52 bomber fleet with new engines, with a contract award projected for June 2021.
The Air Force released a request for proposals for the B-52 Commercial Engine Replacement Program to the three companies on May 19. The engine makers are already under contract to create digital prototypes, and they have until July 22 to submit final proposals, the solicitation stated.
The Air Force operates 76 B-52s, each outfitted with eight TF33 engines. The service plans to order 608 new engines, plus spares and support, from the winner of the competition.
The public version of the RFP obscures the estimated value of the program, which is projected to extend from 2021 to 2035.
Pratt & Whitney, which manufactured the TF33 currently onboard the B-52, has stated it will propose the PW800. “Its industry-leading reliability, robust sustainment infrastructure, and significant fuel efficiency savings will greatly improve the legendary bomber and keep it flying for decades to come,” said Chris Johnson, Pratt & Whitney’s executive director for mobility and diverse engine programs. "Our unique experience with the B-52, coupled with our expertise integrating commercial engines onto military applications, will deliver a low-risk, high-performance engine to power the Stratofortress fleet through 2050.”
GE Aviation will put forward the CF34-10 and Passport engines, spokesman David Wilson said.
“GE is the only company to have been involved in re-engining U.S. Air Force aircraft three times over,” he said. “Add in our deep experience powering six strategic bombers, entrenched support of air combat and the reverence we have for the role we play in protecting this country, and GE is the clear partner to ensure the B-52 is ready at all times for mission critical.”
Rolls-Royce intends to offer its F130 engine, the company confirmed.
“Rolls-Royce is excited to move to the proposal stage of the campaign and ready to demonstrate that the Rolls-Royce F130 engine is the perfect fit for the B-52,” Craig McVay, senior vice president for Rolls-Royce Defense, said in a statement. “The F130 is a highly reliable and proven engine which is already in commercial production. Our team is focused and energized, and eager to compete for the B-52 Commercial Engine Replacement Program and provide the best possible solution for the U.S. Air Force and the key missions of the B-52 weapon system.”
The Air Force plans to operate the B-52 into the 2050s and sees new commercial engines as a way to reduce fuel burn and the time it takes to maintain the bomber.
Last year, B-52 maintainers at Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana, told Defense News that modern engines would make it easier for crews to diagnose problems and make needed repairs.
“I would like to know if I need to take that aircraft down out of the schedule and give it a new engine ahead of time,” said Lt. Col. Tiffany Arnold, 2nd Maintenance Squadron commander. “We could prioritize, we could understand the patterns of the engines in a way that we could maintain them better. And hopefully the new motor, whoever designs it, will have a shorter mean time between failure, and we can fly them longer.”
Valerie Insinna is Defense News' air warfare reporter. She previously worked the Navy/congressional beats for Defense Daily, which followed almost three years as a staff writer for National Defense Magazine. Prior to that, she worked as an editorial assistant for the Tokyo Shimbun’s Washington bureau.