MELBOURNE, Fla. — As the Pentagon tightens its grip on F-35 program costs, Pratt & Whitney will put pressure on its own supply chain in the hope of decreasing the price of the joint strike fighter's F135 engine, its president of military engines said Wednesday.
"We're going to start really focusing with them, bringing in expertise to look at 'should cost' of those components, identifying that they have the most cost-effective production system [and] challenging them on their supplier management," Matthew Bromberg said during an interview in West Palm Beach, Florida.
Pratt & Whitney has checked off more than 1,200 improvements meant to drive cost from the F135, but Bromberg acknowledged that its suppliers — even its tier-one suppliers that work directly with the company — have remained mostly untouched.
That will likely change, not just for Pratt & Whitney suppliers but for companies up and down the supply chain working on Lockheed Martin's F-35. Shay Assad, the Pentagon's director of defense pricing, announced in March that he and the F-35 Joint Program Office would embark on a "deep dive" of the weapon system's cost.
The review would encompass not only Lockheed’s supply chain, but those of the top 20 to 25 firms that make the major components and systems of the aircraft, he said during the McAleese and Associates annual conference.
"We know what we’re paying, but the real question is: What does it cost, and more importantly, what should it cost? That’s really where we want to go," he said then.
Pratt & Whitney claims to have reduced the F135 engine's price by more than 50 percent since the program’s inception. Some of those savings were generated organically as production quantities increased, but it was also driven by government and company investments that paid for about 1,200 improvements to manufacturing processes or materials, Bromberg said.
"That’s, we think, a successful partnership, and it’s yielded huge benefits to the program office and the government with this 51 percent cost reduction," he said during a media trip to see Pratt & Whitney’s F135 production line in West Palm Beach. Defense News accepted hotel and travel accommodations from the company.
Pratt has identified an additional 600 tasks that could further cut the price of the engine and has communicated that information to the F-35 JPO, Bromberg said. Those items could potentially be selected by the Pentagon to put into action as part of an ongoing F-35 cost assessment.
Beyond that, the company is considering how to more effectively sustain the engine.
"We’ve taken just under 15 percent of the life of sustainment costs out of the program because we reduced the cost of the hardware," Bromberg said. "Material only makes about 60 percent of your sustainment costs, so we’ve taken out a lot of cost by the work we’ve done in the past."
In the future, Pratt will focus on improving the reliability of the engine — which would lower costs by increasing the time in between depot visits — and optimizing the flow of parts and materials coming in and out of depots.
"This is a global logistics system that is being set up, so the idea is optimizing where spare engines are [and] spare modules are and how to get them to [where they're] need[ed] as quickly as possible," he said. "ALIS [the F-35’s logistics system] can play a big part of that, because it can be a very predictive system."
The latest version of the Autonomic Logistics Information System, ALIS 2.0.2, plugs the F135 into the overall capability, allowing maintainers to use the system to run diagnostics on the motor, monitor its health and order spare parts.