The US Department of Defense (DoD) has made an effort to ensure a timeline for upgrading the sophisticated F135 engine that powers the F-35 Lightning II fighter jet.

It has allocated “full funding” worth $497m to the F135 Engine Core Upgrade, also known as the Block 4 programme, as part of the recent Defense Appropriations Bill for fiscal year 2024.

According to concerns repeatedly voiced by the US Government Accountability Office in two reports published in 2023, the engine was originally due to be completed in 2026 and determined to cost $10.6bn. However, this ‘Block 4’ upgrade has risen to $16.5bn and now estimated to conclude in 2029.

Ultimately, Block 4 addresses new threats to the aircraft since the DoD’s original requirements more than two decades ago. Block 4 capabilities require more power and cooling than anticipated, which has prompted the DoD to modernise the overworked F135 engine.

As a result of new demands in a different technological era, the DoD has added extra capabilities nearly every year since Block 4 began – leading to the aircraft’s capabilities growing from 66 to 80.

Fundamentally, the problem with the modernisation programme is that the DoD has not been able to distinguish its higher-than-expected costs, leaving the US Congress with “no clear picture of why demands and costs have spiked.”

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Pratt & Whitney won a contract to undertake an F135 upgrade study and operational assessment by the F-35 Joint Program Office to identify propulsion system growth needs for Block 4.2 F-35 aircraft and above in October 2020.

“We are thankful that Congress has embraced and enacted the Defense Department’s decision to upgrade the F135 with the Engine Core Upgrade, the lowest-risk, most cost-effective solution to modernizing the F-35,” said Jeff Shockey, senior vice president, RTX government relations.

“We are fortunate to enjoy continued bipartisan and bicameral support and leadership from our congressional advocates on this critical capability for the warfighter; particularly Sen. Susan Collins, Rep. Rosa DeLauro, and many other members that continue to be staunch advocates of the F135 programme.”

The legislation also includes continued support for the Next-Generation Adaptive Propulsion programme, a portion of which will be provided for Pratt & Whitney’s XA103 adaptive engine to continue moving toward detailed design review for the prototype engine.