A Pratt & Whitney F135 engine undergoes altitude testing at the Arnold Engineering Development Center. Pratt & Whitney signed a depot activation contract agreement Thursday with Aerospace Industrial Maintenance Norway for sustainment of the engine. (US Air Force)
FARNBOROUGH, ENGLAND — Pratt & Whitney signed a depot activation contract agreement Thursday with Aerospace Industrial Maintenance (AIM) Norway for sustainment of its F135 engine, used to power the F-35 joint strike fighter.
The agreement covers "planning and management activities" required for depot standup; further contracts will cover the support required to activate the engine depot at Gardermoen, Norway by 2018.
"This is truly a global program and it requires a global sustainment solution," Bennett Crosswell, the head of Pratt's military engine program, said in his speech.
The deal is one of the first dominoes to fall for a new global sustainment plan for the fifth-generation fighter, one the seeks to pit country against country to drive down costs of sustaining specific parts of the plane.
"We recognize that one of the most important things for building the global sustainment posture is flexibility," United States Air Force Lt. Gen. Christopher Bogdan, the program head for the F-35, said earlier this month. "Because it's going to change, and it's going to change over time, many times.
By signing this contract, Norway is getting a jump on that competition, something acknowledged by a top government official who spoke after the signing.
"Getting in early is a key to establishing a foot hold in the international sustainment market," added Norwegian Deputy Armaments Director John Laugerud.
"I commend Norway, [because] by moving out first they are going to establish the capability first, and I think that gets them a very good opportunity to be a regional capability," Crosswell said.
The Netherlands, Turkey and Japan have all expressed interest in similar agreements, but Crosswell could not provide a date on when those might come to fruition, noting talks are still in the "early" stages.
The F135 engine has been under a microscope ever since an engine fire badly damaged an Air Force F-35A on June 23, eventually leading to the grounding of the plane. Although the fleet was recently cleared to fly, it is doing so under restrictions, including an inspection of the engine after every three flying hours.
The grounding also caused the plane to miss its international debut in the UK last week.
In a sign of the scrutiny facing Pratt & Whitney, members of the US Senate have asked the Pentagon to "reassess" the value of an alternative engine for the fighter.
Asked about the potential to reignite the battle to power the F-35, Crosswell insisted his focus remains on delivering the engine.
"Ill let others decide how they want to treat this," he said. "I don't even think about it. I just think about meeting the requirements of our customers. I know it sounds kind of corny, but truly, that's what we're focused on," adding that the company is ready to assist the government in sections of the engines going forward. ■