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F-35 chief expects P&W's bomber work to reduce F135 cost

The head of the multinational F-35 Joint Strike Fighter programme expects Pratt & Whitney to significantly reduce the cost of the F135 now that it has been named as the propulsion system supplier for the Northrop Grumman B-21 bomber.

Lt Gen Christopher Bogdan would not confirm if the F135 engine core is common with the B-21 powerplant but says there are enough “benefits” to warrant price reductions for the F-35 programme.

The F-35 joint programme office (JPO) has already reached a “handshake” agreement for 167 of the high-thrust military turbofan engines under low-rate production lots nine and 10, but price reductions might come with production of 100 B-21 bombers ramps up in the 2020s. The air force has not said if the stealthy B-21 is powered by two or four engines.

“I think some things we learnt on the F-35 engine with Pratt & Whitney will greatly benefit the long-range strike airplane, and at the same time, I think Pratt & Whitney ought to be looking to drive the cost of the F-35 engine down now that they have that extra business,” Bogdan said at a defence programmes forum in Washington DC on 10 March. “We expect them to.”

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US Air Force

The air force says P&W of East Hartford, Connecticut is one of seven top-tier suppliers for the B-21 programme. It did not confirm Pratt’s exact role on the industry team.

P&W maintains two plants in Connecticut that produce its main civil and military engines, including a 140,000m² manufacturing space in Middletown and 74,000m² space in East Hartford. The company produces the F100 for legacy Boeing F-15 and Lockheed F-16 fighter jets, the PW4062 for Boeing's KC-46 Pegasus and recently wrapped up work on the F117 for the Boeing C-17.

Bogdan did not say if the B-21 would boost production of F135 engine cores. He did, though, confirm that overhead costs would at least be shared. “I would expect that prices for F135 to come down,” he reiterated.

The bomber programme remains classified despite the air force naming the top seven suppliers and releasing the military designation and artist’s impression of the bomber.

Lockheed and P&W have committed to reducing the price of the conventional F-35A from 100 million today to $85 million for orders placed in fiscal year 2019.

A spokesman for the engine manufacturer declined to comment on the B-21 or Bogdan’s comments, referring all question to the air force. F135 assembly is scaling up as the F-35 fighter acquisition gathers pace, with output jumping 110% between lets eight and 10.

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