The future of the General Electric Rolls-Royce F136 alternate engine for the Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) appears to be once again under threat, following a US Navy proposal to remove funding for its development from the 2007 defence budget, writes Guy Norris.

Although neither the companies nor the US Department of Defense can comment on the budget request before it is published in February, Pentagon insiders say the threat is being taken seriously by the project’s senior partner, the UK, which is believed to be involved in “direct lobbying at the highest levels”.

However, most observers believe the GE R-R team’s receipt of a $2.4 billion system development and demonstration (SDD) contract for the F136 in August makes it unlikely that the threat will materialise to the extent proposed by the USN.

To run until September 2013, the current SDD contract covers the production and qualification of 14 engines – seven ground-test articles and six for flight test, plus one spare. The first engine is scheduled to enter testing in mid-2008 and begin flight testing in the JSF during 2010, with the design to achieve initial service release with first production deliveries in 2012.

Risk-reduction tests, including a short take-off and vertical landing evaluation, are still scheduled to begin next month using a pre-SDD development engine.

While the zero-funding option could further delay development or even see the programme terminated, F136 proponents point out that Congress favours a second engine choice on both economic and readiness grounds, as already evidenced with Lockheed’s F-16.

Source: Flight International