As F-136 Engine Ends Pratt & Whitney Celebrates F-135 Progress for JSF

by: Matthew Potter
May 17, 2011

Category: Boeing, Business Line, Companies, Congress, Contract Additions, Contract Awards, Department of Defense, development program, Events, Federal Budget Process, GE, Lockheed Martin, Military Aviation, Pratt & Whitney, production program, Proposal, Rolls-Royce, Services, U.S. Air Force, U.S. Marine Corps, U.S. Navy, UTC | RSS 2.0

The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) being developed by Lockheed Martin (LMT) is the key modernization program for the U.S. military for the next few decades. The new Lightning II aircraft will replace U.S. Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps assets from the Cold War era as well as equip several Allied nations. It is also the largest, most expensive military acquisition program in history. Ultimately several thousand of the aircraft will be built in three variants for use from land bases, aircraft carriers and to supply the short vertical-take-off-and-landing (V/TOL) mission. A key component of this as with any other modern aircraft is the engine. The primary one for the JSF will be the F-135 under development by Pratt & Whitney, a United Technologies (UTX) company.

Up to this year the U.S. was pursuing a dual source for the F-35 engine albeit against the wishes of the Defense Department. Congress funded Rolls-Royce (RR:LSE) and General Electric (GE) to develop the F-136 as a form of risk reduction and potential cost savings to the program. Every year for the last several the Department did not request funding for this effort and Congress would add it through the appropriations process. The Obama Administration continued the practice of trying to end the effort and in April made the decision to terminate the contract with the two companies. The two companies continue to lobby Congress and will for now maintain some effort using their own internal funds.

While this is going on in the background P&W continue to support the F-35 program as a whole. Recently the delivered the engine for the latest production batch, LRIP 3. This is the first production lot that will see all three U.S. services receive aircraft as well as two of the Allied participants, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands. The delivery also represents the 21st engine delivered by P&W for the Low Rate Initial Production (LRIP) part of the JSF program.

Also the company received the order for the next batch, LRIP 4, which is worth a little over a billion dollars for the F-135. This is for 37 engines, technical support and engineering services. The latest contract continues price reductions over previous ones which is expected as the program matures and begins larger and more stable orders.

The size of the engine contract alone illustrates the cost and complexity of the program. It also shows why there is such competition for the work. Ideally you would have two suppliers for such a critical piece but the F-35 already went through a fly off an downselect between Boeing (BA) and Lockheed which included the use of the F-135. The program has seen such schedule slip and cost growth that continuing two engines while it may be risk reduction to some may also be unaffordable.

Until the Congress and Defense Department finally agree on just using the F-135 there will be attempts to keep the F-136 alive. At the same time the program continues with more and more production utilizing only the P&W product providing more revenue and earnings to that company.

Photo from kenhodge12’s flickr photostream.

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