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F-35, Joint Strike Fighter program hits with engine shortage problem

The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program hits with the jet’s Pratt & Whitney F135 engine shortage problem and it could be months before the situation begins to improve, a defense official said. 

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The F-35, is a 5th generation, multi-role, air superiority fighter jet. It is the most expensive fighter jet program in US history worth trillions of dollars in the coming decades. The most expensive fighter jet program facing engine shortage issues due to expected, then longer repair and maintenance time period. 

“The Air Force F-35 jet team that performs at air shows around the world has had to scale back appearances this year”, Bloomberg reported. “A growing shortage of engines because of longer repair periods, some due to previously unreported shortcomings with engine blade coatings.” 

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The F-35’s Air Combat Command that controls the demonstration team cut the number of 2021 air shows by one-third (about eight performances) to avoid a service-wide shortage of Raytheon Technologies Corp. Pratt & Whitney engines.

What is the engine shortage problem? 

The problem is twofold according to the F-35 program office. First, the Pratt & Whitney F135 engine Heavy Maintenance Center at Tinker Air Base, Okla, has not been able to process engines through scheduled depot maintenance as quickly as projected. 

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Second, maintainers are discovering premature distress of rotor blade coating in a small number of engine power modules, creating more repair work and contributing backlog. 

It is a “serious readiness problem”. By 2022 about 5 to 6 percent of the total F-35 fleet could be without engines due to long maintenance times as well as unscheduled engine removals. A defense official told the Defense News

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A defense official said that about 20 percent of F-35s could be affected by engine shortage if those fixes do not work and no further action is taken. 

The engine problem was one of the main maintenance issues found to degrade F-35 mission capable rates, which sat at 69 percent last month. Ellen Lord (former Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment) told reporters. 

According to the F-35 program office, the Department of Defense (DoD) first noticed the shortage of engine problems in early 2020. Then at the end of summer, the department received an update that the F135 depot would not be able to process 60 engine power modules a year, as was previously expected. 

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Number of factors affecting the maintenance process, including “an increase in the work scope that they were seeing within as they tore down the engine, the unavailability of tech data, some of the engineering disposition wait time, the lack of available support equipment and … depot workforce proficiency.”

This was combined with a higher preponderance of degradation to the heat-protective coating applied to the blades of the F135 power module. 

How is the Air Force trying to mitigate the problem? 

The Air Force is adding a second shift at the F135 Heavy Maintenance Center to handle the engine shortage problem by June. The defense official said. 

The F-35 program office has already addressed Pratt & Whitney for additional power modules repair support, and it’s working with the contractor to get more training, support equipment, and technical data. 

The defense official said, “what we want to shoot for is turning out power modules at about 122 days. We are a little over 200 days today.” 

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“We continue to work with the F-35 Joint Program Office, the services, and Oklahoma City – Air Logistic Complex to increase enterprise capacity across the F135 Maintenance, Repair, Overhaul, and Upgrade network.” Pratt & Whitney, a subsidiary of Raytheon Technologies said. 

” P&W also recognizes the inherent challenges that the F135 program’s sustainment strategy is presenting, and continues to collaborate with the JPO and services to align on solutions to meet their needs.” 

The Air Force is also hosting a summit at Tinker Air Force Base, where commanders will be able to discuss the program. 

Analysis:

It is really a point of concern for the United States Air Force that Lockheed Martin’s F-35 5th generation fighter jet, designated as the most expensive fighter jet program facing engine shortage issues due to longer repair and maintenance time. 

The Air Force is trying to resolve the issue by considering the number of options available. Hope so the issue will be resolved in the near future without affecting the program in the long term.

Sources:

  1. Defense News
  2. Bloomberg