Nation & World

UTC's F-35 engines chronically late: Pentagon

Defense agency's action watched in regard to Raytheon merger

Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette

Rockwell Collins CEO and President Kelly Ortberg explains some of the technology that goes into an F-35 Gen III Helmet Mounted Display System to U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst during a demonstration in 2015.
Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette Rockwell Collins CEO and President Kelly Ortberg explains some of the technology that goes into an F-35 Gen III Helmet Mounted Display System to U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst during a demonstration in 2015.
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United Technologies Corp.’s Pratt and Whitney unit is chronically late delivering engines for the Pentagon’s costliest program, the F-35, raising questions about whether the company is ready for a surge to full-rate production scheduled for next year.

Pratt remains under a previously unreported “Corrective Action Request” from the Defense Contract Management Agency that cites “poor delivery performance” on its current batch of engines for the fighter jet, including for the most complicated version used by the Marine Corps and the United Kingdom for vertical takeoffs and landings.

The agency’s action is likely to be watched not only by the Pentagon and international buyers of the F-35 but also by shareholders and investors assessing UTC’s planned merger with Raytheon Co., which would fortify the combined company’s standing as one of the top U.S. defense contractors.

The F-35 engines would be one of the new company’s top revenue producers.

UTC is the parent company of Collins Aerospace, Cedar Rapids’ largest employer.

UTC, which is the sole supplier of engines for the fighter built by Lockheed Martin, must demonstrate by year-end that it has delivered on promised improvements to solve the problems that led to the agency’s formal request in December, spokesman Mark Woodbury said in a statement outlining the issues.

The $428 billion F-35 program is scheduled for approval next year to enter full-rate production, the most lucrative phase of a weapons program for contractors.

The decision is contingent on an assessment during the aircraft’s current round of intensive combat testing that it’s effective and can be maintained.

Of the $428 billion, as much as $66 billion is to be spent on at least 2,470 engines — designated the F135 — for U.S. jets, including $53.4 billion in procurement, according to the Defense Department’s latest Selected Acquisition Report on the F-35.

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Pentagon budget documents indicate the engine program is valued at about $2 billion annually for Pratt, according to a Bloomberg Intelligence analyst.

John Thomas, a spokesman for Pratt, said in an emailed statement that “we take seriously our responsibility to meet F135 production commitments. The corrective action plan submitted earlier this year lays out how we are doing that.

“Over the past year, we have invested more than $200 million for additional capacity, and currently have over 100 Pratt and Whitney employees deployed to our supplier facilities in support of production obligations.”

Pratt and Whitney President Bob Leduc underscored the engine’s revenue potential to analysts June 17 at the Paris Air Show.

“So another way to think about the F135 is a year ago we made about eight engines a month,” he said. “Right now we are between 13 and 14 engines a month.

“But when you think about the F135, it’s 16 engines a month for the next 30 years. There will be over 4,000 of these airplanes when it’s all said and done,” including foreign sales.

The primary issues resulting in late engine deliveries “have been related to supply-chain capacity, material shortages” and production issues, according to the contract management agency.

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