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December 6, 2023

Pentagon taps Pratt & Whitney as sole provider of F135 engine upgrades

COURTESY / LOCKHEED MARTIN Pratt & Whitney will be the sole provider of the F135 military jet engine.

Pratt & Whitney will be the sole provider of the F135 military jet engine, following a decades-long push by Connecticut’s congressional delegation to secure funding and protect jobs in the state.

The Department of Defense announced this week it is awarding multiple follow-on contracts that will extend the company’s work in supplying engines on a sole basis for the next seven years. The contracts for the Engine Core Upgrade program will start a few months into fiscal year 2024 and run until the end of 2031.

The announcement comes months after President Joe Biden signaled his support for the modernization of the F135 engines in his 2024 budget proposal instead of holding a competition to find an alternative.

As one of Connecticut’s biggest employers, the East Hartford-based company has been producing the engine used by Lockheed Martin’s F-35 aircraft since it was awarded the Pentagon contract more than two decades ago.

Since then, members of Connecticut’s congressional delegation have been heavily involved trying to secure more funding and contracts related to the Joint Strike Fighter program and Pratt & Whitney serving as a supplier for the F-35 aircraft.

Lawmakers from Connecticut argued it would be more cost effective to invest in updates to the existing engine instead of investing in a new model.

Rep. John Larson, D-1st District, who is the co-chair of the bipartisan Joint Strike Fighter Caucus, said the delegation’s support for Pratt & Whitney’s F135 engines spanned multiple presidents and four U.S. senators from Connecticut.

“A third decade later, it’s finally now they are sole source on the F-35, a tremendous effort by the entire delegation,” Larson said in an interview, noting that the support was also bipartisan when Republicans like former Reps. Nancy Johnson and Chris Shays were members. Connecticut’s delegation is now all Democrat.

“Joe Courtney and I always talked about whether it’s submarines or aircraft … this is Connecticut’s industrial base,” Larson added. “We’ve worked together as a delegation from the beginning and to expand our base.”

Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, and Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-3rd District, also played key roles, given their membership on the House Armed Services Committee and the House Appropriations Committee, respectively.

Connecticut’s senators also sit on similar committees, with Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., on the Senate Armed Services Committee and Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., on the Senate Appropriations Committee.

“After years of consistent effort by the Connecticut delegation to proactively secure funding to upgrade the existing engine, this award by the Department of Defense validates the critical importance that the employees of Pratt & Whitney deliver to the warfighter,” Courtney said in a statement.

“As a member of the House Armed Services Committee, I look forward to ensuring this modernization program stays on track and will continue to advocate for additional resources needed in years to come,” he added.

Competitors like General Electric had wanted to open up competition for a replacement engine for F-35s. Both GE and Pratt & Whitney received contracts in 2016 as part of the Advanced Engine Technology Program (AETP) to develop prototypes.

But the Connecticut-based company will proceed as the sole contractor.

Pratt & Whitney, which is headquartered in East Hartford and has a facility in Middletown, is one of the state’s largest manufacturers, with a supply chain made up of about 100 suppliers.

The company will now be tasked with modernizations like improving engine life, cooling capabilities and vertical lift capabilities of the F-35B.

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“The company also employs more than 11,126 people in East Hartford and Middletown and is core to our state’s economy,” DeLauro said in a statement. “This contract will support good-paying union jobs across our state, and I am proud to have advocated for it.”

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