The Air Force may look to industry to provide future engines for the F-15EX fighter jet after sole-sourcing the initial aircraft lot to GE Aviation [GE], the service said May 21.

A solicitation released May 15 showed the Air Force is conducting market research for companies capable of providing up to 461 engines for the Boeing [BA]-built F-15EX beginning in June 2023 and ending around May 2030.

The service initially announced a sole-source acquisition of GE’s F110 engine in January, but received pushback from competitor Pratt & Whitney [UTX] and from some industry observers for the plan. Pratt & Whitney provided the engines for the F-15C/D fleet, which the F-15EX will eventually replace. The company filed a protest with the Government Accountability Office in February against the Jan. 28 contract award.

Brian Brackens, a spokesperson for the Air Force’s Life Cycle Management Center (AFLCMC) at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, confirmed in a May 21 email to Defense Daily that “the sole source contract was not cancelled; the justification was reevaluated and updated to limit to only F-15EX Lot 1.”

The Lot 1 sole-source award will help the service “meet the unusual and compelling urgent need for engines which can be immediately certified for use in the F-15EX Lot 1 aircraft without delaying their rapid fielding schedule,” Brackens said. “The Sources Sought Notice was posted to conduct market research on the industrial base’s ability to meet the propulsion requirements for later F-15EX production lots. The results of this market research will be used to inform the F-15EX Program’s acquisition planning and determine whether a competition is appropriate.”

Responses to the May 15 solicitation are due June 8.

Congress appropriated funds in the fiscal year 2020 defense bill for the Air Force to build eight new F-15EX aircraft to begin the recapitalization of the aging F-15C/D fleet. Boeing [BA] will build the new fighter aircraft, which build off of investments made by Saudi Arabia and Qatar to develop an advanced fighter jet. The bill included $1.1 billion for the eight aircraft, including $364 million to build two test aircraft. The Air Force’s fiscal year 2021 budget request included $1.3 billion for 12 new F-15EX fighters.