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Interview with Bennett Croswell, President of Pratt & Whitney Military Engines

Jul. 26, 2014 - 03:45AM   |  
By AARON MEHTA   |   Comments
(Mike Morones/Staff)
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P&W employees: 31,500 worldwide
2013 revenues: $14.5B
P&W Military Engines
■2013 sales: About 25% of P&W revenue
2013 deliveries: 124 engines, 9 F135 lift fans
Source: Defense News research

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On June 23, an F-35A gearing up for a flight caught fire. That incident grounded the F-35 fleet, which caused the fifth-generation fighter to miss its scheduled international debut at the Royal International Air Tattoo and Farnborough International Airshows, both in the UK, in early July. The cause of that fire was later identified as excessive rubbing of a fan blade inside the plane’s Pratt & Whitney-designed F135 engine.

Defense News interviewed Bennett Croswell, the man in charge of Pratt’s military engine division, at the start of the Farnborough International Airshow, before details of the engine fire were made public. Asked about the fire days later, Croswell said he remains confident in the F135 design and was not concerned about the potential for Congress to restart an engine competition.

Q. What is your big focus for the next year?

A. We want to continue to deliver for the F-35 program. We’re focused on all our programs but certainly the F-35 program is a large program going forward. It’s in this interesting phase [where it is] still in development, in production and in sustainment. And being focused on all three phases and continuing to deliver for our customer, that’s really important.

Q. Do you need to adjust how you produce the F135 after the engine fire?

A. This is a challenging time for us as we go through this investigation. But overall, if you look at the engine and how well it’s gone — mission readiness greater than 98 percent, operational use [percentage] in the high 90s. Overall the engine is meeting requirements and we’ve got to continue to do that.

If you look at mean time between maintenance, it’s not as good as we want it to be. What does that mean? It means we are having to change pumps or sensors — not major maintenance, but maintenance on the engine anyway. We’re working on the reliability of those conflicts to improve the reliability of the engine from a mission standpoint.

Q. You’ve invested in driving down costs on the F135. What changes have you made?

A. Well, the best example that stands out is rotor one. We had a hollow fan blade, a very complicated machine process, then we have to fusion-bond the two blade halves together. By eliminating the actual requirement to have a hollow blade, we can greatly reduce the cost of the engine, more than $200,000. We started that about two years ago, and that will cut in in 2016.

Q. How is that replaced on existing engines?

A. At depot. The ones in the field today, when the module comes in for overhaul it’ll be replaced with the new one because it will cost less, thus part of the 30 percent reduction sustainment costs. That kind of a change will continue to yield benefits to the program over the life of the whole program. Fourteen years is the life of the cold section. So 14 years from now, those first F135s will come in for fan overhaul, and instead of reaching for a part with a hollow fan blade, a rotor one, they’ll reach for one that has a solid fan blade that is compatible to the current configuration and costs $200,000 less on the cold section.

Q. How will Pratt work within the new F-35 global sustainment strategy?

A. We have agreements with Norway to help them establish their engine depot, and with the Netherlands to establish their engine depot. Turkey has received approval to establish not only an engine depot but a factory acceptance and check out [FACO] of their F135 engines that they’ll procure. And in Asia, Japan is establishing a FACO and a depot — but they’re doing that with Pratt & Whitney. Those countries are establishing that capability. The way I view it will happen is, they’ll overhaul their engines, they can make government-to-government agreements to overhaul another countries’ engines, and then they’ll compete for the potential to overhaul US government engines.

There’s a lead time associated with establishing that capability, so the countries see their first aircrafts will be here in 2019 or 2020, you need to start working on their infrastructure and support the engine in advance, and that’s the kind of things we’re doing with those countries I just mentioned.

Q. Do you envision an engine center in every partner nation?

A. That will be up to the customers. That would be too much capacity, if everyone had a depot. But frankly, if a country wants to build a depot to overhaul their engines, we’ll support that, and then try to make each and every one of them the very best they can be, and then they can compete and we’ll compete them for work over and above their working country. And I tell each of the countries this, too: We’re going to be dedicated to make your shop the best it can be; we’re going to be dedicated to make everyone else’s too. Then it will be how they compete on their own terms.

Q. You’ve talked about how important production quantities are. Can sustainment help offset that?

A. The sustainment piece doesn’t really offset the lack of volume from a production standpoint in terms of driving down the cost of the engine. It is an important part of our business and helps the business to grow, but you have fixed costs that get absorbed by the volume of engines you have in your shop. I’ll give you an example. In our compression system module center we have three machines [that make integrally bladed rotors, or IBRs]. They’re long lead pieces of equipment, and we’ve procured three of them in anticipation of the JSF ramp. Those three machines are operated by one operator, and if he makes $1.50 an hour, and you’ve got enough volume to have three machines, then each IBR costs 50 cents of labor. If you don’t have that much volume and you’ve only got two machines running, each engine costs 75 cents of labor. If you’ve only got one running, you get up to $1.50.

Q. How concerned are you about the budget, particularly with cuts in 2016 looming?

A. We’re very concerned. The concern is with the ramp rate: Will F-35 ramp? Will the tanker program continue as currently structured? Will it be delayed? Will technology programs be able to be fully funded? I think it’s a big threat, there’s no doubt. We’re having to anticipate the ramp, right? We know the ramp is there for our commercial programs, and we have to anticipate the ramp will be there for the F135. So we’re preparing for that ramp. Delays that could result from sequestration would just create more headwind in terms of our costs.

Q. Would you have to consider further reductions in staff or footprint?

A. We had made adjustments in terms of productions, in terms of our shop footprint, in terms of our staffing but right now we’re planning on the ramp to JSF and we know there’s going to be a ramp of our commercial programs. I would think if programs were to disappear, volume were to disappear we’d have to consider that certainly because we’ve got to try to control our costs.

Q. Would you consider funding some of those technology programs if government funds dried up?

A. I haven’t thought about that specifically.

Q. Is the unmanned system engine market an area of potential growth?

A. The X-47 is powered by the F100 engine. The General Atomics Avenger is powered by the PW545 engine. I think one of the things you see on those two examples are, as people look at next-generation systems, say for the F-35 program, they’re not going to buy thousands of them. They’re going to buy 80 or 100 or 120. So you can’t afford a whole new engine development program, so you look at what you have off the shelf that provides the capability from the standpoint that’s required, and then you wrap around the technologies required, like low-observe or power and thermal takeoff management. You wrap those technologies around engines that you have. As new platforms come out [it will grow]. If JSF ramps up like we anticipate, that’ll be the biggest by far. So unmanned air vehicles will be 10 to 15 percent, I would estimate.

Q. What about rotorcraft?

A. We’re on our second engine [for the HPW3000 engine program]. The goal of the program is 25 percent improvement in fuel burn, 50 percent improvement in horsepower, and both the first and second engine have demonstrated close to that kind of performance. So we’ve completed durability testing and performance testing, and now we’re running sand ingestion tests. All of the technical aspects of the program are very solid, so now we’re looking forward to the Army’s issuance of the [request for proposal] for the next phase of the program and competition with our competitor. We’re looking forward to that opportunity to power both new-production Black Hawks and Apaches, and it is drop-in compatible with the current T700 engine so that they could retrofit existing Black Hawks and Apaches.

Q. Is this something you’re eyeing also for international customers?

A. Certainly. Once production was cut in, then you know that would be the engine for the Black Hawk and Apache. The approach would be when it’s time to go to depot, you take out your T700 engine and instead of overhaul on a T700 engine, you put a new HPW3000 in. And so one of our goals is the cost of the new HPW3000 is not much more [than] the cost to overhaul the engine. So you get more capability for essentially the same amount of money you spent. ■

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