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Pentagon expects long-term shortage of F-35 engines

The Pentagon is dealing with a shortage of useable engines for its F-35 fighter aircraft, because of maintenance delays and newly-found shortcomings of engine blade coatings. Photo courtesy of Pratt & Whitney
The Pentagon is dealing with a shortage of useable engines for its F-35 fighter aircraft, because of maintenance delays and newly-found shortcomings of engine blade coatings. Photo courtesy of Pratt & Whitney

Feb. 15 (UPI) -- F-35 fighter plane engines are in short supply, with the solution months away, causing the Defense Department to reduce its schedule of exhibition flights and to start planning for a shortage as soon as 2022.

The Defense Department's F-35 office has advised that about five to six percent of the U.S. F-35 fleet could be without useable engines by 2022, and up to 20 percent of the plane's fleet could be sidelined by 2025.

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The F-135 Heavy Maintenance Center, located at Tinker Air Force Base, Okla., has been unable to process engines for repairs and maintenance, and catching up will take months, according to Defense News.

Additionally, overheating issues in F-35A engines have caused premature cracks in turbine blade coatings, causing shortened engine life and leading to backlogs at already overwhelmed repair facilities, Bloomberg News reported.

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And the F-35 air show schedule, which differs from those of the Navy's Blue Angels of the Thunderbirds of the Air Force, was reduced to only eight appearances in 2021, according to Military.com.

"[Air Force officials] don't deem the engine issues right now to be a safety of flight issue, but maintenance inspections are resulting in unscheduled engine removal," Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said Friday at a press briefing.

In January, Ellen Lord, the Pentagon's top acquisition official at the time, said that engine problems were a reason that F-35 "mission capable rates" were low. The figure stood at 69 percent in February.

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Pratt & Whitney, the Connecticut-based subsidiary of Raytheon Technologies Corp., is the sole supplier of engines for over 600 F-35 variants built by Lockheed Martin.

Thousands of F-35 variants have been ordered or planned by the United States and allies.

The Air Combat Command said in a statement that the branch is working with Pratt & Whitney "to resolve supply and maintenance issues" with the engine, and a reduction in air show performances will help "ensure the Air Force has enough engine capacity to meet operational requirements."

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The F-35 is a stealth multirole combat aircraft, and is regarded as the world's superior fighter plane. It offers strike missions, electronic warfare and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities in three variants.

The aircraft has had a series of costly problems which have hampered its use, and in September 2020 prompted $1.4 billion in retrofitting of equipment.

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