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This article was Originally Published on Jul 10, 2003 in Volume: 2  Issue: 3

Powering the Fleet

The military aircraft engine market is strong. MAT looks at large aircraft powerplants.

By Babak Minovi

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As commercial sales weaken and margins in the turbine manufacturing industry dwindle away, the military segment of the business is enjoying a period of relative vigor. To further brighten the mood of the military engine sales staff, the medium-term outlook is downright glowing. This upbeat state of affairs is due to a combination of two factors: a renewed interest in a strong military following the events of September 11, and demand from some of the older aircraft in inventory that are in dire need of replacement and modernization after a period of neglect.

Although there is no shortage of new military aircraft programs, re-engining older planes has become an area of heavy competition as contract winners will be able to keep their older turbine production lines running profitably for a few more years. The C-5 Galaxy, E-3 AWACS and E-8C JSTARS re-engine programs are recent wins for the U.S. manufacturers while further contracts (even for the ancient B-52) are among those currently being considered.

One of the few similarities between military aircraft operators and low-cost airlines is the trend toward outsourcing the maintenance and overhaul side of the operations. Both parties have reached the same conclusion that leaving the training, inventory risk, etc. to a third party allows them to concentrate on doing their special brands of business. Military engines generally require more frequent overhaul as they operate in more extreme conditions.

This series of articles, will survey the global military turbine market with special emphasis on Western armed services. The article breaks out the market not by the type of turbine, but by type of aircraft application, which better serves the needs of MAT readers. This first article in the series will take a look at large aircraft engines. Other articles will move on to small and medium aircraft, rotorcraft and UAVs in later issues.

GE Aircraft Engines

Military engine sales and services provided one quarter of the revenue of General Electric Aircraft Engines (GEAE) in 2002, a percentage that is likely to grow with the relative strength of the military market. Despite its dominant position in the global gas turbine market, GEAE has a surprisingly modest foothold in the large, military aircraft segment as most of its exposure is targeted at smaller aircraft and rotorcraft. The company does have a large presence through its CFM International joint venture company with Snecma.

F101: The 30,000 pounds of static thrust (lbst) (augmented) F101 was the engine of choice for the Rockwell International B-1 Lancer. The turbine is currently out of active production, but performance upgrades are still in the works and the strong showing of the B-1 bomber in Iraq will bolster arguments for the expanded operational status of the aircraft.

F103: Besides its limited, but highly visible, appearance on Air Force One aircraft, the military version of the commercially successful CF6-80 turbine will be part of a major new re-engine program. The 50,000-lbst version of the engine has been selected to power the Lockheed Martin C-5 Galaxy under the Reliability Enhancement Re-engining Program (RERP). The F103s will be replacing the existing GE TF39 turbofans (also CF6 derivatives) and are expected to significantly lower the operating cost and increase the reliability of the aircraft. Initial deliveries are slated for 2006, but the length of the program depends on whether only the C-5B variants will be re-engined, or if the program will be expanded to cover all variants of the heavy transport.

The engine may also be a beneficiary of the large KC-767 order detailed further on with the Pratt & Whitney PW4000.

F118: The 17,000 to 19,000 lbst F118 is an un-augmented derivative of the F110 turbine and was used as the powerplant for the limited production Northrop Grumman B-2 Spirit bomber. Despite post-September 11 calls to revive B-2 production, the ability of cheaper aircraft to do the job will make such a scenario unlikely.

The F118 turbine was also used in a Lockheed Martin re-engine program for the U-2/TR-1 reconnaissance aircraft in the mid-1990s.

Pratt & Whitney

There are currently over 11,000 Pratt & Whitney military engines in service around the world, with a large proportion of those units serving on large aircraft. At one point the company had a near monopoly on the U.S. military market for large turbofans. Although the market is much more balanced at the moment, Pratt & Whitney still offers a broad range of powerplant options for military applications.

F117: The military variant of the successful PW2000 engine, the 41,000-lbst turbofan is distinguished from its commercial kin by a vectored thrust reverser among other modifications. The F117 powers the Boeing C-17 Globemaster III transport for the U.S. Air Force, as well as four British RAF aircraft on lease from Boeing. With a series of follow-on orders, C-17 production is expected to continue at least through the next decade and the demonstrated need for rapid and long range strategic lift observed in the Iraq conflict may lead to additional domestic or export orders for the aircraft.

JT8D: The most widely used commercial turbine in history has found a new home in the re-engine program for the Boeing E-8C Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar Systems (JSTARS) aircraft. The 22,000-lbst JT8D-219 engines will be replacing Pratt & Whitney TF33 (military JT3D) turbofans and will significantly increase the aircraft’s operational utility as well as reducing its noise footprint.

PW4000: The contentious competition for the U.S. Air Force refueling tanker fleet modernization program seems to have been won by Boeing’s KC-767 entrant (pending a few signatures) and that is great news for the PW4000. Together with the GE F103, the 60,000-lbst variant of the turbine is one of the powerplants of choice for the order, which will start at 100 aircraft. This came in the nick of time as the commercial B-767 orderbook seems sparse at the moment. Boeing is also selling the B-767-200ER variant of the tanker to export customers in Italy and Japan and with a slightly less powerful variant of the PW4000 and the USAF order could be the impetus for further sales overseas (to the RAF and RAAF for example). The Air Force has also selected the B-767-400 derived E-10A aircraft for its Multi-Mission Command and Control Aircraft (MC2A) requirement, which would eventually replace the current fleet of JSTARS and AWACS aircraft.

TF33: Most of the more than 5,000 TF33 (military JT3D) engines built have now been retired or replaced by newer offerings, but a significant number still power military aircraft and provide a source of parts and repair revenue for the company. The B-52H is currently the last major application for the 45-year old turbine, but proposed improvement and re-engine programs may extend its active life.

CFM International

Born during a period of Franco-American cooperation, the 50/50 joint venture between GEAE and Snecma dominates the mid-range power class in the global turbofan business. The company made significant inroads into the U.S. military market by selling its engines as an upgrade for the Air Force’s Boeing 707-based fleet of special-mission aircraft.

F108: The military variant of the world’s most popular commercial turbofan, the CFM56, the 22,000-lbst F108 has been installed on the Boeing KC-135R, RC135, E-3 and E-6A fleets. In fact, the U.S. Air Force is the turbine’s largest customer with over 1,800 units in service or on order. At the present time, the main source of military sales for the turbine is re-engine programs for KC/RC-135 variants. The engine has also been selected as the powerplant for the Boeing 737-derived entry in the as yet unresolved U.S. Navy multi-mission maritime aircraft (MMA) competition.


Despite the somewhat reserved reputation of its brand name, more than half of the 54,000 Rolls-Royce aircraft turbines in operation are installed on military aircraft. Most of the recent activity in the military sector, especially in the United States, has come through the acquisition of Allied Signal almost a decade ago. The recent strengthening of British-American relations due to their mutual stance during the Iraqi conflict will no doubt help the standing of the company in any future U.S. military competitions.

Rolls-Royce has a number of risk sharing participations in military turbines (e.g., the GE F120), but it also offers a number of its own turbofans and turboprops for use in large military aircraft.

BR710: The 15,500-lbst BR710 turbofan, produced by Rolls-Royce’s German subsidiary, will be powering BAE Systems’ Nimrod 2000 maritime patrol aircraft. The production of the aircraft has been delayed for the time being, due partially to problems involving the engine’s unusual inside-the-wing configuration. A higher thrust derivative of the BR710 is also the lead contender to power the proposed Indian-Russian multi-role transport aircraft (MTA).

T56: Best known as the powerplant for the Northrop Grumman E-2C Hawkeye, the Lockheed Martin P-3 Orion and older variants of the C-130 Hercules transport, the Rolls-Royce (formerly Allison) T56 is nearing its last legs as an active production turbine. The single-shaft, axial-flow turboprop has had an output range of 3,500 to 6,000 shaft horsepower (shp) in its various incarnations. The 5,912-shp T56-A-427 has been the latest successful variant with its installations in the E-2C, C-130H and P-3C aircraft. The E-2C orders are the last orders remaining for the T56 and the Rolls-Royce AE2100 will be used in any future applications in this power class. The civilian version of this engine is known as the 501.

The most significant upgrade program for the T56 is the C-130X modernization initiative, which is bringing up earlier Air Force C-130s to the T56-A-15 configuration.

AE2100: The AE2100 turboprop is currently the most active large military aircraft engine in the Rolls-Royce inventory. The 3,000 to 8,000-shp class turbine is most recently being installed on the Lockheed Martin C-130J Hercules and Alenia/Lockheed Martin C-27J Spartan transports in the 4,600-shp AE2100D3 variant. The tremendous success of the C-130J will ensure the continued production of the engine into the next decade and possible upgrades of older versions of the C-130s will only add to the success of the airframe/turbine combination.

Possible future applications of the AE2100 include the U.S. Navy’s multi-mission maritime aircraft (MMA) program if the Lockheed Martin P-3 Orion-based option comes out as the eventual winner. A proposed third generation version of the Dassault Atlantique is also being offered with AE2100 engines.

EuroProp International

The company is a newly formed entity with Snecma, Rolls-Royce, MTU (28 percent each) and ITP (16 percent) as the controlling shareholders. EPI was formed specifically to bid for the powerplant of the Airbus A400M military transport after the earlier failure of a similar joint company to come up with a viable alternative.

TP400: The 10,600 shp TP400D6 was recently selected as the powerplant for the new European transport after late political discussions, and a final price cut, overturned an earlier decision to go with the Pratt & Whitney Canada PW180 turboprop offering. The initial 2 billion Euro (approximately $2.3 billion) order is for 750 engines.

Challenges in the Midst of Joy

With all the active and growing engine programs listed on the preceding pages, it is little wonder that the military sales staff at engine manufacturing companies are in a much better mood than their commercial counterparts. The biggest risk to this period of “unfortunate prosperity” is any tightness in military funding due to economic and budgetary constraints. If, as expected, the U.S. economy starts its rebound in mid-2004, financial pressures to cut military spending will remain manageable, but any significant delay, especially considering the presidential elections, could be a serious cause for concern.

Another point to keep a close eye on is the rise of nationalism as a deciding factor in aircraft and engine competitions as evidenced by the KC-135 and TP400 selection procedures. Although this trend can mostly be attributed to a sign of tough economic conditions, the recent spat between the United States and continental Europe has not helped the situation. Limiting competition will serve none of the parties in the long term and is a step in the wrong direction for international cooperation.

Babak Minovi is an engine analyst with Teal Group, a Fairfax, VA, defense information company.  The next article in this series will focus on the small military aircraft market including fighters and trainers.

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