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DT Poll: A Contest for New Bomber’s Engines?

by John Reed on May 27, 2011

In case you didn’t see this, it looks like Congress is trying to introduce JSF style engine competition into the Air Force’s next effort to build a high-performance aircraft; the “2018” or “next generation” or “daddy of the long range strike family” or whatever you want to call it bomber.

Apparentlly, House Armed Services Committee members, the same group who fought hardest (besides GE and Rolls Royce) to keep the F136 alternate engine for the F-35 alive are now trying to mandate that there be a competition to build the engines for the Air Force’s new stealth bomber.

Pentagon officials are pushing back, saying such competition is unnecessary since the whole point of the reincarnated bomber program is to use existing technology as a way of keeping costs down and fielding the plane ASAP. This makes some sense considering that Pratt &  Whitney is already working on versions of F119 and F135 engines used in the F-22 Raptor and F-35, respectively, that company executives have said could be used on the bomber.

However, HASC officials have long been loath to allow Pratt to develop the F135 without competition from the GE-Rolls F136, saying the contest will help ensure Pratt delivers a better, cheaper product. A driving factor in their insistence on competition may be the Great Engine War of the 1980s. That contest saw GE commissioned to build the F110 alternate engine for the F-16 after Pratt’s F100 engine had serious reliability issues in its early days in the F-15 and then saw its costs spike when it was used in the F-16. The battle royale over the engines led to lowered costs and higher performance out of both companies.

So why not have a competition involving existing engine technology? Use the F135 and F136 as the basis for the new bomber’s engine contest. That way you use existing tech while forcing the price down even further. Remember, budget constraints mean that keeping costs low and performance high are going to be key to any big ticket program’s survival in the coming years.

So readers, what do you think?


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