USAF seeks to bypass aircraft engine manufacturers

Washington DC
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The US Air Force is considering buying engine parts for some of its aircraft from third-party manufacturers, the service's top officials told the US Congress on 6 March.

"We have taken a look at competing some aspects of engine components and have seen potential for significant [cost] reductions," said air force secretary Michael Donley, during his testimony before the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee. "We forecast a saving of $40 million," he added.

In recent years, several companies have received regulatory approval under the parts manufacturing approval (PMA) category to sell reverse-engineered parts for popular commercial engines, such as the CFM International CFM56.

Air force chief of staff Gen Norton Schwartz, testifying at the same hearing, said the service has had good experiences with buying refurbished commercial parts and parts built by third-party manufacturers for the CFM56-derived General Electric F108 turbofan installed on the Boeing KC-135 tanker fleet. The USAF's efforts have yielded some "very significant savings," he said.

The service is working to secure the data rights to the Pratt & Whitney F117 turbofan installed on the Boeing C-17 strategic transport, in order to pursue the same strategy for that fleet, Schwartz said. The USAF wants to pursue such a strategy for as many systems as possible, particularly for those that are not exclusive to the military, he added.

Meanwhile, the air force is planning to standardise its C-17 fleet with the Block 18 configuration of the aircraft. It will also retain 52 Lockheed Martin C-5Ms, which are being upgraded with new engines and reliability improvements from the C-5A, B and C variants. Modernising the C-5B is cheaper and more useful for the air force than buying additional C-17s, Schwartz added.

The air force, meanwhile, is cancelling the avionics modernisation programme (AMP) for some of its Lockheed C-130s, and will instead upgrade the older tactical transports with a more modest package of enhancements. Each AMP aircraft costs $19 million to modernise, whereas the new package will cost $5 million each, Schwartz said.