GE, Pratt & Whitney Battle Over F-35 Engine Upgrade


GE is challenging Pratt & Whitney’s exclusive engine deal for the F-35 with a proposal to scrap the current Pratt engine in favor of a clean-sheet design from GE. The existing engines have been troublesome for operators and Pratt says it can upgrade all the existing engines for $2.5 billion. GE has launched a massive lobbying effort to try to convince lawmakers that investing more in the current engine would be throwing good money after bad. Instead, GE is proposing Congress give it $6 billion to deliver a shiny new design it says will deliver “revolutionary capabilities” and introduce competition into the program as a hedge against cost overruns.

Pratt has launched its own counteroffensive, saying GE’s plan would be a waste of money and it’s already tooling up to make changes to the core of the engine that will allow it to deliver the power needed for new electronics and other systems in the Block 4 version of the plane. Pratt says the upgrade is part of the normal evolution of aircraft programs and its fix is a faster and much less expensive solution.

Meanwhile, deliveries of the F-35 are set to resume two months after a vibration issue that cracked a fuel tube in an engine led to the loss of an F-35B during an acceptance flight at the Fort Worth factory. A video of the bucking airplane and subsequent zero-zero ejection of the pilot was widely distributed. The incident halted deliveries for two months. “After thorough review, we can confidently say there were no quality issues with the [engine] fuel tube that fractured,” Jen Latka, vice president of the F135 program for Pratt & Whitney, told DefenseNews. “We are dealing with a rare systems phenomenon involving harmonic resonance.”

Russ Niles
Russ Niles is Editor-in-Chief of AVweb. He has been a pilot for 30 years and joined AVweb 22 years ago. He and his wife Marni live in southern British Columbia where they also operate a small winery.

Other AVwebflash Articles


  1. Maybe I don’t have any big business sense but can someone explain to me how you can make a product (funded by the customer no less), sell said product to your customers (who funded the development), find out that said product is defective and have your customers pay for the fix? As a small business owner if I told my customers that “I have a fix for the problem my product is experiencing but I need you to pay for the fix”, they would have me hauled into court and the judge would take their side! I understand that the plane is being funded by the US and NATO but as it sits now this is in the $1M+ per plane. The US and NATO didn’t make the engineering mistakes, Pratt did. I just don’t like it when my tax dollars are misused. Rant over.

    • There are two different issues involved: the cracked fuel line, and the Engine Core Upgrade (ECU). The fuel line fracture was caused by harmonic vibrations which only affected a “small” number of engines, and which takes about half an hour to fix.

      Dunno who is paying for that, or what the total cost is.

      However, the $2.4B ECU proposal is for upgrading the engines to “Block 4” capabilities – an improvement program, not a defect fix.

    • Your maybe is correct. Pratt did not offer an off the shelf known product. Were Pratt to take the risk (no company in their right mind would have) the price to the USG would have increased exponentially. The USG would not have been able to afford the engines. The USG took the risk and got a better price than it otherwise would have gotten. Even as bad as it sounds.

  2. GE’s proposal will deliver “revolutionary capabilities” – but don’t all turbines revolve?

  3. GE trying to elbow into the procurement process reminds me of a scene in the original Top Gun, where Mav is Ice man’s wing man. The competition between them comes to head when Ice is taking too long to get into position for a shot and Maverick pressures him to move over and finally screams, “I’m in!!

    Followed by Mav losing control and Goose dies.

    • Not quite. GE also had an engine proposal (my day job at the time) at the beginning of the program, in 2005. At one point, two engine suppliers were proposed, if possible. Budget cuts forced a choice.

  4. So how many years will it take to build this clean sheet design? Also to troubleshoot and fix the things that come up in devlopmental work.

  5. Russ – this seems to be a rather incomplete look at the re-engine debate with an unrelated field issue (on a different engine entirely) tacked on at the end.

    Why not go into detail regarding the step-change improvements of the XA100 vs ECU? What about the improvements of the ECU vs block 4 req’ts? Schedule? Testing history? Why nothing about XA101 and its status? Not even a mention of adaptive technology?

  6. That engine is huge. No wonder they can only fly for an hour before needing to refuel. Whatever happened to small, fast and deadly?