Pratt & Whitney and General Electric’s proposals for the next phase of the US Air Force’s sixth-generation fighter engine development effort are due tomorrow, with the two sides anticipating sole-source contract awards in June or July of 2016.
The Adaptive Engine Transition Programme (AETP) is the next step in the development of a highly efficient and adaptive military engine for combat jets and the five-year effort could be worth as much as $950 million to each team.
The Air Force Research Laboratory has been working with GE and P&W on an adaptive, three-stream engines since 2008 with the ultimate goal of introducing a new engine in the 45,000lb thrust class with 25% to 30% better fuel efficiency. The new sponsor is USAF’s Propulsion Directorate.
P&W's director of advanced programs and technology Jimmy Kenyon says the air force originally anticipated a competition for one “winner takes all” $900 million contract for AETP, but through industry engagement has decided to carry two teams forward instead.
Kenyon says an approximately one-year schedule adjustment has also eliminated much of the overlap between the current Adaptive Engine Technology Development (AETD) effort, which started in 2012 to bring two designs up to a preliminary design review.
The air force now expects to assemble two competing designs for engine testing before transitioning to a competition in the early 2020s for development of a sixth-generation “F-X” and “F-XX” fighter engine.
“There was a lot of concurrency between what they were doing in AETP and what we were still trying to finish in AETD, the current programme, and that posed a lot of risk,” says Kenyon. “It was going to be a fixed-price contract with a lot risk in it – a $900 million winner-takes-all.
“They’ve since taken a step back, because one of the things the air force is hot on is maintaining a competitive industrial base.”
P&W has been pursuing AETP as a critical bridge between the end of F135 development in 2016 for Lockheed Martin's F-35 and the competition for a sixth-generation aircraft.
The company says its current work on AETD will result in product improvements for the F135, which Kenyon says represent a 5% to 7% fuel savings. This next programme is mostly about positioning for the next big development opportunity, but some components could roll into an F135 mid-live overhaul.
“Now you’re thinking five years into the future and where you need to be [in preparation for the sixth-generation fighter engine competition]. How to get to the end of the five years and be in the best position possible?” he says.
“We have a very successful design and we are projecting to meet all of the performance requirements. We have a lot of experience with the fifth-generation fighters and fifth-generation integration, and we can bring all of that experience to bear.”