Pratt & Whitney reportedly is gearing up to accelerate its production rate for the F135 engines as the F-35 Lightning II fighter jet nears wider deployment with the U.S. Air Force, Navy and Marines, and the defense forces of several other Allied nations. P&W is the prime contractor for the F135, a mixed-flow afterburning turbofan jet engine it developed with other suppliers to power the high-profile Stealth fighters. It assembles the engines at its operation in Middletown, Conn.
Production of the F-35 Lightning II jet is scheduled to more than triple by 2018, from 40 planes per year to more than 120 per year. U.S. Dept. of Defense officials have publicly expressed concern that the production increase could put stress on the supply chain, a concern that is heightened by the persistent criticism of the program’s costs.
The F-35 is a single-engine aircraft in development for more than a decade, and now being introduced for the first time by the U.S. Department of Defense. Lockheed Martin is the main contractor, and recently was authorized to proceed to place long-term supply orders for the program’s tenth Low-Rate Initial Production series, which will comprise 78 jets in all.
In an interview this week, the head of Pratt's military engines division, Bennett Croswell, made it known that the manufacturer aims to have at least two suppliers available for every major component, and is conducting “production readiness reviews” with critical component suppliers, and the suppliers to those companies too.
"Capacity is good, but we have to make sure we get the quality right as well," Croswell said. "We're ready for the ramp."
Pratt & Whitney is negotiating terms with DoD for 160 engines to be supplied in the next two low-rate initial production contracts (LRIP 9 and 10), an agreement that’s expected later this year. The ninth series will include 60 engines; the tenth will include 100 engines.
To date, Pratt has delivered 240 F-135 engines.