By Staff Correspondent
In its pursuit of increasing the F-35’s cooling capacity by 20-30% in its Block 5 upgrade, Lockheed Martin is prepared to bear substantial costs, in defiance of the U.S. Air Force’s decision against aircraft re-engineering. The pursuit of such an upgrade has emerged as a necessity following a system strain that could lead to a potential $38bn rise in maintenance costs for the U.S. fleet.
The final decision for these cooling enhancements, which will be informed by a comprehensive Power and Thermal Management System (PTMS) assessment and the re-engineering proposition, lies with the F-35 Joint Program Office. The office is expected to reach a decision in the coming months, with Lockheed Martin advocating for the maximum possible increase.
Greg Ulmer, Lockheed Martin’s VP of Aeronautics, spoke at the Paris Air Show, expressing his support for the enhancements. He pointed to the need for understanding the detailed requirements before determining the specific solution sets, a process that he anticipates will take 2-3 years.
The Joint Program Office is due to meet in September to finalise the cooling requirements for all operators. This decision follows the May report from the Government Accountability Office, which highlighted the need for future power and cooling requirements beyond 2035.
At the same Air Show, Collins Aerospace announced their Enhanced Power and Cooling System (EPACS), promising 2.5 times the cooling power of the current system. Collins believes its solution could become an Engineering and Manufacturing Development program by 2024, but Lockheed Martin remains cautious until the final requirements are clear.
Ulmer revealed his support for the Air Force’s Adaptive Engine Transition Program (AETP)—the GE Aerospace XA100 or Pratt & Whitney XA101. The Air Force had previously proposed cancelling the AETP due to high costs, favouring Pratt’s F135 Engine Core Upgrade program instead. Only the F-35A-operating Air Force showed interest in the AETP engines.
A key point of contention is Pratt & Whitney’s assertion that its F135 ECU is the only upgrade fitting all F-35 variants. In contrast, Ulmer stated that an AETP engine could fit in A and C variants, although the F-35B variant would require substantial work.
Despite the varying needs and budgets for upgrades among international operators, Ulmer emphasized that all should at least have the option for cooling and power upgrades. Lockheed Martin is currently testing the Tech Refresh 3 upgrade, necessary for the upcoming Block 4. It includes a new integrated core processor, a panoramic cockpit display, a new memory unit and a digital aperture system.
While the flight tests are completed by fall, and the certification is expected by year-end, Lockheed Martin anticipates delivery delays and a backlog in Texas. International customers like Greece and the Czech Republic are showing interest in new orders, while existing operators, including Australia and Israel, are planning to expand their fleets.