WASHINGTON — Pratt & Whitney is developing upgrades to the F-35’s engine that will give it the power and cooling necessary to make the U.S. Defense Department’s most sensor-heavy fighter jet even more of a powerhouse.
The new Growth Option 2.0 upgrade for the F135 engine, launched on Tuesday, adds a more advanced power and thermal management system that could be used to help the F-35 incorporate new weapons and sensors, the company said.
It also integrates a new compressor and turbine technologies that yield greater thrust and fuel savings, which were part of the Growth Option 1.0 concept unveiled in 2017.
In a June 12 interview with Defense News, Matthew Bromberg, president of Pratt & Whitney’s military engines unit, said the company decided to work on improvements to the F135’s power and thermal management system, or PTMS, based on feedback from the F-35 Joint Program Office.
Pratt in 2017 tested an early version of the Growth Option 1.0 motor called the fuel burn reduction demonstrator engine, which demonstrated that the upgrade could improve thrust by up to 10 percent and reduce fuel consumption by up to 6 percent.
But while the community that flies the F-35B short-takeoff-and-vertical-landing variant was gung-ho on the thrust improvements, the JPO said that better power and cooling was what was really needed — especially as the program transitions from the development phase to modernization, also known as Block 4 or Continuous Capability Development and Delivery, Bromberg said.
Pratt has already begun testing some technologies from the Growth Option 2.0 suite in various rigs and demonstrators. Bromberg called the upgrades “relatively low risk” and said it could probably be proven out in a four-year technology demonstration program.
But he declined to talk about completed testing or to quantify the new power and cooling improvements, saying only that they were “significant.”
Although the Defense Department hasn’t signed onto an upgraded F135 engine as part of the Continuous Capability Development and Delivery effort, Pratt executives have been hopeful that it will do so as it finalizes that strategy.
“As the F-35 program moves forward with the Continuous Capability Development and Delivery strategy, we strive to stay in front of propulsion advances needed to enable F-35 modernization,” Bromberg said in a statement. “We’re continuously assessing customer needs and responding with technology options to keep them ahead of evolving threats.”
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.