US Air Force picks five companies to prototype next-gen engines

The U.S. Air Force on Friday awarded contracts worth up to nearly $4.9 billion to five companies to develop prototypes of an adaptive engine for its next-generation fighter jets.

The service awarded General Electric of Cincinnati, Ohio; Pratt & Whitney of East Hartford, Connecticut; Boeing of St. Louis, Missouri; Lockheed Martin of Palmdale, California; and Northrop Grumman of Palmdale, California, each an indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity contract worth up to $975 million to carry out the prototype phase of the Next Generation Adaptive Propulsion program, according to the Defense Department’s contract announcements.

The awards mark a broadening of the adaptive engine market, which until now has been dominated by GE Aviation and Raytheon Technologies-owned Pratt & Whitney. Those companies have been developing engines under the Adaptive Engine Transition Program, which the Air Force has pursued as a way to produce a new replacement engine for the F-35 joint strike fighter.

The Air Force said work on these prototype engines — including design, analysis, rig testing, prototype engine testing and weapon system integration — is expected to be done by July 2032.

Adaptive engines of the kind being developed by Pratt & Whitney and General Electric Aviation use advanced technologies like a third stream of air to improve fuel efficiency, thrust and range.

Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall told lawmakers in April an adaptive engine, if used in the F-35, would offer substantially increased power that would allow it to operate modernized capabilities.

The Air Force’s decision came about a week after service officials expressed concern that not replacing the F-35′s engine with an adaptive version could lead to the collapse of the advanced propulsion industrial base.

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