An F135 engine for the F-35 joint strike fighter is fired up in a test. (Pratt & Whitney)
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WASHINGTON — The Pentagon has reached an agreement in principle with Pratt & Whitney on the sixth batch of jet engines for the F-35 joint strike fighter, and the company hopes to submit a proposal for its next batch within 30 days.
The contract will cover the production of 36 F135 engines, along with two spares. Official cost details are still being worked out, but it will likely be similar to the $1 billion agreement for the fifth low-rate initial production (LRIP-5) lot reached in May.
“In general, the unit prices for the 32 common configuration engines, which are used to power both the conventional takeoff and landing (CTOL) aircraft and the aircraft-carrier variant (CV) aircraft, [were] reduced in LRIP 6 by roughly 2.5 percent compared to the previous LRIP 5 contract for 35 engines,” wrote officials from the Pentagon’s F-35 Joint Program Office (JPO) in a statement. “The unit prices for the 6 short takeoff and vertical landing (STOVL) aircraft engines [were] reduced in LRIP 6 by roughly 9.6 percent compared to the previous LRIP 5 contract for 3 STOVL engines.”
“This agreement represents a fair deal for Government and Pratt & Whitney,” US Air Force Lt. Gen. Chris Bogdan, the F-35 program executive officer, said in an official statement. “Driving down cost is critical to the success of this program and we are working together – in each successive contract – to lower costs for the propulsion system.”
The agreement closes negotiations on low-rate initial production (LRIP) lot six of engines.
Lockheed Martin, the F-35’s prime contractor, announced an agreement July 30 for the production of lots six and seven of the single-engine stealth warplane, although a Lockheed spokeswoman confirmed the agreement has yet to be finalized. The two buys cover the production of 71 new jets, including the first models built for Italy, Australia and Norway.
LRIP-6 procures 18 F-35A conventional takeoff models for the US Air Force, six F-35B jump-jet variants for the US Marine Corps and seven F-35C carrier models for the US Navy, as well as three F-35As for Italy and two F-35As for Australia. Deliveries of this block would begin in mid-2014.
With the LRIP-6 engine agreement in place, Pratt is hoping to build on the momentum to complete a joint package of LRIP-7 and LRIP-8 engines early next year.
“We’re focused on getting a proposal delivered to the JPO here in the next 30 days, certainly by the end of September, and hopefully we’ll have an agreement in the first quarter of 2014,” Chris Flynn, Pratt’s vice president of F135 engine program, said. He added that after LRIP-8, he hopes to reach an agreement on engine sales annually.
According to Flynn, costs have dropped 16 percent since LRIP-3 was agreed to, and 40 percent overall since the first production engine.
“When we’re able to deliver those types of results, I believe it helps the negotiations go a lot quicker,” he said.
The improved relationship between Pratt and the F-35 Joint Program Office — rocky throughout the early part of the year — has helped the deal move along.
In January, the Marine Corps’ F-35B variant was grounded following an engine problem during a test flight. The source of that problem was later identified as an improperly crimped line in the fueldraulic system. Nine days after the jump-jet variants were cleared to resume flights, the entire JSF fleet was grounded when a crack was discovered in one of the blades in the Pratt-designed engine.
The following week, Bogdan heavily criticized Pratt and Lockheed for “trying to squeeze every nickel” out of the F-35 program.
“We continue to improve the relationship from where I sit today,” Flynn said. “We have regular meetings with General Bogdan. He’s a demanding customer, but our intent is to deliver on our commitment. I think based on the improvements in our negotiations, the relationship continues to improve.”
Deliveries of LRIP-6 engines are set to begin in the fourth quarter of this year. Overall, Pratt has delivered 107 production engines.