Lockheed Martin Contradicts Pentagon, Backs Wasteful Alternate Engine | Citizens Against Government Waste

Lockheed Martin Contradicts Pentagon, Backs Wasteful Alternate Engine

The WasteWatcher

The Department of Defense (DOD) has been clear about setting priorities and preserving valuable resources in the effort to upgrade the engine for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF).  The DOD’s fiscal year 2024 budget request included $462 million for the Engine Core Upgrade (ECU) to the current F135 Pratt & Whitney engine and stripped funding for the General Electric-made alternate engine by terminating the Adaptive Engine Transition Program (AETP). 

Citizens Against Government Waste successfully led and won the fight to defeat the alternate engine more than a decade ago, and is once again leading the way to prevent this kind of wasteful spending. 

Despite the preponderance of evidence that continued funding for AETP is flushing taxpayer money down the drain, on June 20, 2023, Lockheed Martin Executive Vice President of Aeronautics Greg Ulmer supported the development of the alternate engine to needlessly extend the life of the F-35.  This was seen as an unusual dispute between Lockheed Martin, the primary contractor for the F-35 and Pratt, the contractor for the engine.

Raytheon Technologies Vice President of Global Government Relations Jeff Shockey characterized Lockheed’s alternate engine support as an effort to extend the life of the JSF and delay or eliminate the Air Force’s Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) fighter.  He stated, “We’re not surprised Lockheed Martin is angling to market the F-35 as a 6th-generation fighter, which it never will be, with the intent to delay or negate the need for a 6th-generation fighter competition and extend the life and longevity of their contract.”  Pratt & Whitney is a subsidiary of Raytheon.

The Air Force is set to award the contract for the sixth-generation NGAD next year.  While Lockheed will pursue the contract, the company has come under intense scrutiny for the poor performance, massive delays, and sky-high costs of the F-22 and F-35, the fifth-generation fighters it was charged with developing.

In the meantime, Pratt & Whitney F135 program Vice President Jen Latka reiterated the significant downsides of the alternate engine:  “The major cost driver here is the tens of billions of dollars in a duplicative sustainment infrastructure a second engine would require.  Managing two totally different engine programs would require doubling the number of support equipment, doubling the number of facilities, doubling the number of engineering teams, and that’s what really drives the excessive cost increases.  You can’t be flippant about these costs.” 

Pilot safety is also a concern with the AETP.  In their July 22, 2022 letter regarding the F-35A, 35 members of the House of Representatives expressed concerns with introducing an unproven engine to the F-35, writing, “[t]o our knowledge, the Department [of Defense] has never put a new centerline engine in a single-engine aircraft without twin-engine learning or combat experience.  We believe the risks associated with this must be carefully considered to protect the safety of our pilots.”

Unlike the AETP, the ECU builds on proven technology in the F135.  In the last 20 years, Pratt & Whitney has delivered more than 1,000 F135 engines that have safely amassed more than 600,000 flight hours, “or 1 million, if you count the safety record of the F119 engine it was based on.”  It does not make sense to incorporate an engine that is not yet developed and has never been flight tested when the Pentagon has a cost-effective option that builds on combat-proven technology.

This scrap between contractors highlights the need for members of Congress to look at the issue objectively.  The alternate engine program would substantially increase costs, crowd out funding for other Pentagon priorities, and is not a viable solution for the entire JSF fleet.  For these reasons, they should follow the DOD’s lead and reject funding for the AETP.

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