The F-35 stealth fighter, the US military’s most expensive fighter jet, could receive a significant upgrade in the form of a new engine before the end of this decade. This comes at a time when China is mass-producing J-20 planes powered by indigenous engines.
Even though discussions about flaws in its power plant have been going on for a while, the concept of replacing the existing engine with a better one has been mainly placed on the back burner in the past owing to cost and other issues. On the other hand, Congress may be able to compel the Pentagon to develop a plan for putting new engines in F-35 aircraft by the end of this decade.
The Adaptive Engine Transition Program (AETP) is developing an entirely new power train, with numerous prototypes already being tested. Aside from providing higher efficiency, the AETP engine, or some other option, is projected to give a significant performance enhancement to all three F-35 versions.
The AETP initiative aims to create lightweight, flight-ready prototypes of three-stream adaptive engines. If such engines were deployed, airpower with increased range, reduced tanker requirements, and more cooling air for thermal control would all be achievable.
The AETP has granted contracts to General Electric (GE) and Pratt & Whitney. Compared to the Pratt & Whitney F135 engine that currently powers the Lockheed Martin F-35 jet, the AETP intends to provide a 30% improvement in range, an 18% reduction in acceleration time, and improved thermal management.
Furthermore, the businesses aim to make retrofits beginning in 2027, despite the ambitious timeline.
Future aircraft will require a better propulsion system to take advantage of the F-35 Block 4 upgrades. If the AETP or a variant cannot be deployed, the Navy will choose Pratt & Whitney’s Enhanced Engine Package (EEP) for the F135s engines that currently power the F-35 jets.
We could see a number of changes to the F-35s’ performance and capability in the next few months.