F136 Engine A Viable Option For Canada’s F-35 Order
Why Canada May Still Have An Important Option To Consider For Its F-35 Order
The selection of the F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter as Canada’s next generation fighter aircraft is not without controversy, however the necessity to evaluate another key component of the aircraft has garnered little attention even though it’s the heart of any fighter aircraft – the engine.
There are two engines which can power the F-35 -- the Pratt & Whitney F135 and the General Electric / Rolls-Royce F136, neither of which have yet been selected for Canada’s future fleet. The Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that Canada and its partners signed in 2006 states that the partners can choose either the F135 the F136, or both.
Congress, which controls the defence budget in the US, has consistently supported the benefits of having engine competition in the JSF program. Assuming the F136 engine continues in development, the US military will likely operate both engines and will compete them on a yearly basis. Other countries may not have the luxury of operating both engine types due to fleet size, however the ability to choose between the competing engines is very important for a number of reasons, which we will attempt to outline in this report.
General Electric and Rolls-Royce have collaborated to form the Fighter Engine Team which is developing the F136 engine. Unlike the Pratt & Whitney engine, which is a derivative of the older F119 engine powering the F-22 Raptor, the F136 has been designed from the outset as a dedicated F-35 power plant. This has allowed the GE/RR Fighter Engine Team to design a larger core, incorporate modern technology, advanced materials, new tooling methods, and cutting-edge production practices in developing the F136.
Lessons from history
In the late 1970’s, the United States Air Force was experiencing serious issues with performance and reliability of the Pratt & Whitney F100 engine that powered its fleet of F-15 and F-16 tactical fighters. This situation was so serious that severe engine throttle restrictions were placed on pilots flying these aircraft, thus limiting their operational availability, limiting their flight envelope and limiting overall effectiveness. This situation was even more serious for the single engine F-16. If in-flight engine problems occurred and no divert field was in range, a pilot was left no recourse but to eject from his aircraft. This problem was so serious, that the U.S. Air Force instituted an engine competition, which has since been dubbed the Great Engine War. This competition pitted the Pratt & Whitney F100 engine against the General Electric F110 engine. The intent was to increase the reliability, durability and supportability that the Air Force expected from the engines powering their aircraft.
The competition was not meant to lower prices of the engines however that was an added benefit as a result of achieving these goals. In the early years of F110 availability, both competing engine unit costs declined, as did the cost to maintain and support them. The annual head-to-head competition between the engine manufacturers forced the companies to be more responsive to the customer’s needs. The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) recently published a report (GAO-10-478T) validating that the Air Force achieved an overall program savings of 21% in the F-16 engine competition. As a result of the Great Engine War, the reliability and reduced support costs of both types of engines continue to be realized, as the F-15 and F-16 arguably remain the backbone of the U.S. Air Force and other countries.
Now, fast forward to the F-35 program today and the same potential benefits in reliability, durability, efficiency and price could very well be realized with competition between the F135 and F136 engines.
Powering the F-35
In the early 1990s, the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) started the Joint Advanced Strike Technology (JAST) program. This program was designed to study advanced concepts and technologies for future low observable aircraft. The JAST program quickly morphed into an aircraft design process with the intent to field the new aircraft for the U.S. Air Force, Navy and Marines Corps. A key stipulation in the design process was to maximize the use of major subsystems and components which are found on the F-22 Raptor, thereby theoretically reducing costs. As a result of this, the Raptor’s F119 engine was the only engine then available and was chosen by two of the aircraft manufacturers bidding for the project – including eventual winner Lockheed Martin. In an effort to lower costs, Pratt & Whitney chose to use the same F119 engine core design for their F135 engine – thus limiting airflow and later causing excessive temperatures.
With the Great Engine War still fresh in the minds of many in the U.S. Congress, that body elected to establish a competitive engine program by adding funding and directive language to the FY1996 JAST budget. As a result of this funding, General Electric and Rolls-Royce formed a partnership in the Fighter Engine Team and began designing the F136 engine. The GE/RR F136 engine has been designed as a competitive engine for service in the F-35. It is not a back-up nor is it a ‘spare’ engine. With this directive, the GE/RR Fighter Engine Team became a formal partner on Lockheed Martin’s F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Program. It is important to note that the F135 engine is powering the F-35 today because it was the only engine available at the start of the program.
The F-35 Joint Program Office has mandated that both engine types be designed to be completely interchangeable in ‘plug and play’ fashion for any F-35 operated by the U.S. or partner nations. This is a first in aircraft design to provide flexibility and maximize aircraft availability to support operations. Each engine is required to integrate with the common hardware and software found in the F-35.
As it currently stands, the price and availability of engines will be determined by the Joint Program Office in the U.S. Because of this, the overall lifetime cost of either engine will be a critical factor for each partner country. In a presentation to the House Standing Committee on National Defence, Dan Ross, Assistant Deputy Minister (Materiel) for the Department of National Defence stated that, “it’s well known that 50% of the maintenance cost for a jet fighter is the engine.”
Larger core means more power
Designing a new fighter engine takes years of test and development. General Electric and Rolls-Royce have decades of expertise in this area, and their engines can be found on most of the aircraft operated by the Canadian Forces today, including: the Hornet fighter, the Hercules and the new C-130J Super Hercules, the Hawk trainers, Aurora aircraft, the Sea King, the Cormorant, the new Cyclone MHP helicopter, the Airbus 310, the Challenger, the Buffalo and the Tutor.
With the F136, the GE/RR Fighter Engine Team took a new design and new build approach to their engine. The key aspect to their F136 design is an engine that incorporates a larger core – the heart of the engine. In comparison, the competing engine is limited in its potential as it cannot grow its core. With a larger core, come many benefits.
A larger core allows the F136 to have more airflow through the engine, therefore reducing operating temperatures, which in turn yields greater efficiency and reduced emissions. Reduced engine operating temperatures also decreases engine wear, which leads to longer time-on-wing, and the resulting sustainment cost savings over the long term. Another benefit to a larger core is the ability to produce more thrust. Although the engines powering the F-35 will be rated to a specific maximum thrust setting, on test the F136 has already generated ample residual power.
“Because we started engine development after Lockheed Martin had finalized the design of the airplane, we have optimized the engine size to perfectly match the larger inlet that Lockheed Martin re-designed on the F-35 and been able to bring the newest technology into the design. For example, we use advanced ceramic matrix composite material in the turbine of the F136. This composite material doesn’t have to be cooled, which means we can use more air for thrust. With the F136, we have the most advanced fighter engine design in the world,” says Daniel Verreault, Canada’s Country Manager for Military Systems Operations at GE Canada.
“Our engine is designed, built and optimized for the most recent configuration of the F-35. Over the last few years of routine testing, we have discovered that we have over 15% additional thrust available at sea level in comparison to the specified requirement. We have also demonstrated significant reduction in operating temperatures in relation to specification,” says George McLaren, Communications Director for the GE Rolls-Royce Fighter Engine Team. One only has to look to history to see that virtually every aircraft begs for more power over its operating life and are invariably tasked to do more than originally envisioned.
A prime example of this has scenario has recently been seen in the V-22 Osprey fleet. Powered by Rolls-Royce AE1107C engines, the V-22 was certified for flight with a certain thrust setting from its engines. With years of operational service under their belt, the V-22 program office embarked upon further testing, which validated untapped potential in the Osprey design. Knowledge of this, along with knowledge of the intrinsic power available from its engines has facilitated a recent software upgrade that has added 30 knots to the top speed of the Osprey. The software upgrade taps the engines potential power and now allows the V-22 to fly faster than a C-130 Hercules. Extrapolate this situation to the F136 and its larger core, and it’s easy to see how a software change to the engine could deliver more thrust than is currently governed, more efficiently, with reduced wear and with little additional investment.
Why the F136 is good for Canada
In flying the CF-18, Canadian fighter pilots have the benefit of two engines powering their aircraft. This fact is reassuring to most pilots when flying the long distances and often harsh weather conditions experienced in Canada’s north. Some would argue this is a moot point as engine reliability has increased over the years. With the F-35 powered by a single engine, it is critical that a reliable, efficient and robust motor power Canada’s future fighter. To date and in normal testing not meant to push the envelope, the F136 has demonstrated abundant thrust potential and significantly reduced operating temperatures. These are critical factors for any customer selecting an engine.
General Electric and Rolls Royce combined have over 10,000 employees in Canada, and have a long history of trusted cooperation with the Canadian Forces. One of the critical aspects to doing business is contractor responsiveness. Both of these companies have demonstrated their commitment to delivering best value products and services to Canada over many years.
GE has been in Canada since 1892. In 2010, the company generated over $5 billion in revenues from 12 manufacturing plants and hundreds of sales and service offices across the country. The company is a major supplier of engines to the Canadian Forces, powering 8 aircraft fleets and the Navy Patrol Frigates. “Since the 80s, GE Canada has generated over $2 billion in Industrial and Regional Benefits, creating thousands of jobs and transferring world-class technology to Canadian companies. We have an industrial participation plan for each one of the F-35 partner countries and we continue to invest in Canada with several new proposed industrial initiatives to further leverage our Canadian manufacturing presence. This includes technology transfer into the country, along with more high quality, highly paid jobs,” says GE’s Verreault.
Rolls-Royce has been in Canada for more than 60 years. Canadian operations are headquartered in Montreal and the company currently has 1,750 employees located in eight provinces. “A number of key Canadian companies are partners on our F136 program and we have a significant partnership with Canada’s National Research Council. This is all part of our F136 Canadian Industrial Participation program – a plan which we continue to develop. All Canadian partners will benefit from all of the F136 engines produced and sold for the global marketplace - not solely from those engines potentially sold to Canada. We strongly believe that once our engine is completed, it will cost considerably less to keep in service. That is a very significant competitive discriminator for us,” says Bruce Lennie, Vice President, Business Development and Government Affairs at Rolls-Royce in Ottawa.
Where the program stands today
From the inception of the Competitive Engine Program, DoD requested annual funding for the F136. For ten years development progressed until 2006 when F-35 budgetary pressures caused DoD to pull funding of the competitive engine from the overall JSF the program. This was more of an accounting issue meant to reduce the short-term costs in the F-35 program. Members of Congress, particularly those who remember the Great Engine War, have been resolute in funding the F136 on an annual basis, keeping the Competitive Engine Program alive. Lockheed Martin is a neutral party on this issue and the GE/RR Fighter Engine Team remains a part of the JSF industry partnership.
The F136 engine development is currently 80% complete with nine F136 System Demonstration and Development-test engines manufactured, and a tenth in production. The first flight test engine, called 041, has also begun production. Additional test engines need to be manufactured and tested, and the remaining engine software development needs to be completed.
Most recently, the US Government decided to terminate the F136 program and eliminate further funding. However, engine competition supporters in Congress have urged GE and Rolls-Royce to continue development at company cost. The powerful House Armed Services Committee approved language enabling the companies to move forward with testing, using the Government’s test engines.
One of the factors that has limited F136 engine completion is the inability to conduct in-flight testing due to delays in the F-35 production test program. Since delays have existed in the numbers of F-35 aircraft manufactured and available for flight test, the F136 engine test schedule continues to be pushed to the right, thereby slowing the rate of development.
CF could save $400 Million with F136 engine
“Frankly, the bulk of investment has already been made. We are very close to flight testing and unleashing the power of our engine both in terms of performance and the power of competition which all F-35 customers can benefit from. Regardless of which engine is selected, having two competing engines will spur on competition and will allow the ability to change an engine type if operational imperatives demand it. Another benefit of competition is that it drives each engine company to be responsive to the customer, update its technology and reduce costs as quickly as possible to deliver best value. Competition also facilitates reduced costs in support and sustainment over the long term. I’ve seen estimates saying Canada alone could save as much as $400 million over the course of the F-35 program,” says McLaren.
It is critical that F136 development be completed to ensure that the U.S., Canada and other partners can select the engine best suited for them. This is a contractual right that Canada received under the terms of the Production Sustainment and Follow-on Development Memorandum of Understanding that Canada signed in December 2006.
For all the right reasons, Canada must follow the lead of a number of partner countries and demand from the US DoD that it be given a choice of engines to power its F-35 fleet.
Selecting the best engine for Canada’s F-35
The independent U.S. GAO has objectively determined that engine competition for the F-35 program will save $20 billion over the life of the program – a significant savings that will directly translate to all partner nations.
The selection of which engine will power Canada’s F-35’s has not yet been made, and the decision is not required for a couple of years. If cost is an issue, which it clearly is when considering the F-35, why would we not want Canada to have the opportunity to select the best engine for Canada’s new fighters, particularly when considering that 50% of the total lifetime sustainment cost of the F-35 fleet will be engine related. Having only one engine increases program risks.
Competition between engines will undoubtedly spur on efficiency, capability and cost reduction. This cannot be understated, particularly with the vast distances and difficult operating conditions that are experienced in Canada. Whether selecting the F136 or its competition, the Fighter Engine Team argues that the choice must be available to Canada and all F-35 partners. The GE/Rolls-Royce Team for the F136 engine believes that men and women in uniform deserve the best product, just as the Government and taxpayers deserve the best value for money.
What key politicians are saying about the F136 Engine
Several members of the US House and Senate remain very strong in their support of JSF engine competition, and have stated in public recently that they want the F136 engine to continue by allowing GE and Rolls-Royce to self-fund development of the engine. The powerful House Armed Services Committee recently voted 55-5 to keep the F136 engine program moving forward by allowing the companies to continue engine testing.
Here are some comments from members of Congress, demonstrating bipartisan (Republican and Democratic) support for the engine:
Rep. Robert Andrews
Rep. Mike Conaway
Date: 14 February 2011
In contrast, the F136 competitive engine, which is being built through a teaming arrangement between GE & Rolls-Royce, is a new engine designed specifically for the JSF, and is being executed well relative to cost and schedule per DOD’s own assessment of the program. Ironically, the cost to develop the F136 engine is about the same as Pratt & Whitney’s development cost overruns.
Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee
Date: 16 May 2011
… the projected cost of the Pratt engine has risen almost 500% in the past three years. The program now faces $3.5 billion in cost overruns, and issues with engine turbines have contributed to a two-year delay in the overall Joint Strike Fighter program. In addition, all Pratt engines now require costly retrofits to their afterburners. To address all these issues, Pratt wants more taxpayer money from Congress.
All of these problems would be exacerbated if Pratt had no competitor, because monopolists become complacent and wasteful with taxpayer money. If the Pratt program is so haunted by problems now, it is disconcerting to consider what may happen over the three-decade life of the contract.
Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon
Date: 5 May 2011
GE and Rolls-Royce are aware of the current stresses on the defense budget and the taxpayer. I'm pleased to announce that instead of being part of the problem, they have decided to be part of the solution. Instead of lobbying for the final twenty percent needed to finish the engine, the GE team has committed to funding the engine for Fiscal Year 2012 on their own dime. I will accept and support their approach. They believe in their engine and they believe in competition. Thanks to their willingness to compromise, we’ll break up a monopoly; potentially harvest billions in savings, while fielding a more capable, more robust fighter jet—all at zero cost to the American taxpayer.