As the aerospace world anxiously awaits the Government Accountability Office’s verdict on whether to allow Northrop Grumman to begin construction on the Pentagon’s Long Range Strike-Bomber (LRS-B), new details help paint a clearer picture of who will build crucial parts and systems.
The GAO’s decision on whether to uphold losing team Boeing and Lockheed Martin’s protest of the Oct. 27 contract award will determine which subcontractors develop the building blocks of the next-generation bomber — contracts worth millions of dollars and years of stable work.
The US Air Force has refused to disclose the names of the second and third-tier LRS-B suppliers for security reasons. But emerging details may help observers piece together the subcontractors involved.
If Northrop builds LRS-B, GE Aviation will manufacture the primary and secondary power distribution systems, not the plane's engine, according to a source with knowledge of the program. GE was partnered with the Boeing-Lockheed Martin team on the power plant, the source said.This reflects a departure from history, as GE builds the F118 engine that powers Northrop's B-2 stealth bomber.
The news that GE is not the winning engine maker fuels speculation that Northrop's bomber will be powered by Pratt & Whitney engines. Although nothing is certain, some have hypothesized that LRS-B will use Pratt's F135 engines, according to a recent analysis by Jim McAleese.
Pratt spokesman Matthew Bates declined to comment.
Just minutes after the award was announced, Pratt sent out a statement congratulating Northrop on the win.
“Pratt & Whitney congratulates Northrop Grumman for their selection on this very important program,” according to the Oct. 27 statement. “P&W declines to comment on any other questions regarding the Long Range Strike-Bomber program.”
A spokesman for engine-maker Rolls Royce also declined to comment on the company's role in LRS-B.
Even if GAO rejects Boeing’s protest, the opportunities for GE on LRS-B could be very lucrative. Northrop’s win means GE “gained a valuable foothold in everything else aside from the fuselage,” the source said.
GE already supplies critical components for the F-35 joint strike fighter that could have applications for LRS-B, the source said.
GE builds the weapons control, data management, electrical power management and standby flight display systems for the F-35, which uses Pratt & Whitney’s F135 engine. GE also builds the integrated canopy assembly, along with smaller interfaces like the engine rings and remote input/output units, for JSF.
Many of these components are built out of Cheltenham and Southampton, both in the UK, as part of GE’s 2007 purchase of UK-based supplier Smiths Aerospace.
As for LRS-B’s radar and electronic warfare suites, McAleese suggests the new plane will use Northrop’s systems, because Raytheon is presumed to be on the rival Boeing-Lockheed Martin team.
“Northrop is believed to be heavily vertically-integrated from subsystems perspective (e.g., radar, EW, etc.),” McAleese writes.
Raytheon spokesman B.J. Boling declined to comment due to the classified nature of the program.
In an interview last week at the Dubai Airshow, Textron CEO Ellen Lord told Defense News that the company is not involved in LRS-B.
Aaron Mehta contributed reporting