Pentagon sees no advantage in creating separate entity to produce F136 powerplant but Rolls-Royce keeps 40% stake

General Electric and Rolls-Royce have abandoned their idea for a limited liability company (LLC) to develop and produce the F136 turbofan for the Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF), in the face of an unenthusiastic response from the US Department of Defense.

The two engine manufacturers had hoped to announce the LLC during the Farnborough air show in July, but decided to hold off until the joint venture had been given the DoD's blessing. The Pentagon, however, failed to see any advantage to be gained from the creation of a separate entity and did not want to change the name of the F136 prime contractor from that of GE, with R-R as a subcontractor.

R-R is understood to have been keen to establish the LLC to strengthen its position in the US military market, as well as possibly giving the F136 a marketing edge over the rival Pratt & Whitney F135 when it came to the UK selecting an engine for its 150 F-35s. The LLC would have been modelled along the lines of GE and Snecma's CFM International engine venture, giving the US company a controlling 60% stake.

Industry sources stress that, despite the LLC being dropped, it will not change the size of R-R's 40% stake in the F136 engine or its relationship with GE. The UK company's Indianapolis-based operation will still be the lead for the engine fan, the low-pressure combustor and the second and third stages of the low-pressure turbine.

R-R's Bristol, UK-based business is responsible for the F-35 short take-off vertical landing (STOVL) variant's lift system for both F135 and F136 under a separate contract.

The first three F-35low-rate initial production (LRIP) lots between 2006 and 2008 will be powered exclusively by the F135, with the Lots 4 and 5 in 2009-10 split between the F136 and P&W engine. From Lot 6 the engine will be competitively offered.

With the first UK aircraft in LRIP Lot 3, GE is hoping to bring the F136 forward by 12 months to compete for what will be the first international F-35 purchase. Under present planning, the first production F136 engine is expected to run in 2007 and to power an F-35 in mid-2009.

With the UK having selected the STOVL F-35, R-R is now expected to begin pushing for the UK to power its JSFs with the F136.

There are suggestions that the LLC could eventually be revived to help international marketing.

Source: Flight International