Joint strike by Rolls-Royce and GE

A joint Rolls-Royce and General Electric team has been awarded a contract worth $2.4bn (£1.5bn) to develop the F136 engine for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

A joint Rolls-Royce and General Electric team has been awarded a contract worth $2.4bn (£1.5bn) to develop the F136 engine for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF).

The deal puts the world’s three biggest engine makers at the heart of the largest-ever defence contract. Pratt & Whitney is already heavily involved in the JSF programme.

The contract, which was issued by the US government under the System Development and Demonstration (SDD) phase of the F136 project, will run until September 2013, taking it from development to long-term production of the engine.

In addition to the full-scale development work, the SDD phase includes production and qualification of 14 engines, seven for ground testing and a further six, plus a spare, for flight-tests.

Rolls-Royce hopes its involvement in the deal will bring an additional $8bn of revenue over the next 10–15 years. Colin Green, head of Rolls-Royce’s defence business, said: ‘It would be hard to overstate the importance of this deal. It is our biggest single defence programme.’

When the US military first awarded contracts in 2001 to Pratt & Whitney, it also signed up GE and Rolls-Royce to develop a prototype for a competing product. With an expected delivery date of 2012, the engines will arrive later than Pratt & Whitney’s.

However, Green claimed it is a ‘realistic ambition’ that Rolls-Royce and GE will account for half the engines used on the JSF.

‘We would be disappointed if we got less than 40 per cent and surprised if we got more than 60 per cent,’ he said.

Rolls-Royce and GE’s chances were bolstered when a previous JSF contract, which is worth $700m, was finished on time and under budget.

Tony Hartmann, senior vice-president of the Fighter Engine Team said: ‘We completed pre- SDD testing on schedule and under budget which is a major achievement, but not unusual for two companies with many decades of collaborative experience.’

The GE and Rolls-Royce consortium is a 60 per cent split for the Americans and 40 per cent for the UK group.

Dan Crowley, general manager of the F-35 programme, said: ‘The Lockheed Martin JSF team is confident that the Fighter Engine Team will be successful in the execution of the F136 system development and demonstration programme and, ultimately, will provide a highly capable propulsion system for future production F-35 aircraft.’

The JSF is a next-generation, multi-role stealth aircraft designed to replace the AV-8B Harrier, F-16 and FA-18 Hornet and the Sea Harrier in the UK. With potential customers in the USAF, US Navy, Marines and RAF and Royal Navy, numbers in service could reach 5,000–6,000 over the next 30 years.

Rolls-Royce has already developed the engine for the short take-off vertical landing (STOVL) aircraft, one of the three variants of the JSF.