By Karim Toure

The Department Of Defense announced Friday, January 6th 2012 a latest round of engines purchase for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Acquisition Program. The $195 million contract to Pratt & Whitney Military Engines a wholly owned subsidiary of United Technologies Corp covers a total of 37 Pratt & Whitney F-135 engines, with associated parts and technical support for the Lot VI of the program’s current Low Rate Initial Production phase. This order for 37 F-135 engines comprises 18 engines for the US Air Force Conventional Take Off and Landing (CTOL) aircraft variant worth approximately $55 million, 7 engines for the US Navy Carrier Variant (CV) worth about $37.14 million, another 6 engines that will equip the US Marines Short Take Off and Vertical Landing (STOVL) variant worth $84.7 million. In addition, two of the program foreign customers; Italy’s Air Force and Australia’s Royal Air Force will receive respectively 4 engines ( worth $11.6 million) and 2 engines funded ($5.8 million), all for Conventional Take Off and Landing operation.

Low Rate Initial Production

In a previous entry, we highlighted that the current phase of US funding for the program’s Development and Procurement would likely appropriate a total of $61.5 billions ($10.8 in development funding and $50.7 billions in procurement) for the 2012-2016 period, also securing the acquisition of up to 325 aircraft. Under this plan the USAF would receive 203 F-35A, the US Navy 72 F-35C and the US Marines Corps 50 F-35B.

In light of the significant cost and schedules over runs incurred by the program, including the highly publicized breach of Nunn-McCurdy statutes presented to congress in the spring of 2010, major program restructuring cost were forecast to take effect beginning in the FY 2012 Defense Budget. Notably the $7.7 billion increase in System Development and Demonstration funding that would be counter-weighted by a $8.4 billion decrease in procurement funding. Accounting for likely additional schedule slips, Full Rate Production may not begin until 2018, (5 years later than the 2007 baseline program projected).

Fiscal Year 2012 Defense Budget and other constraints

Already, the latest order reflects program changes implemented after the STOVL variant proved overweight and under-performed during initial testing. The decision to reduce the number of STOVL test airframe sourced from 37 aircraft to 15 between 2011 and 2013 led to the the 6 aircraft that will be procured in FY 2012.

The Fiscal Year 2012 budget in its final format shows some of these adjustments in procurement funding. The US Navy STOVL procurement program is funded by line items of $1.43 billion and $117 million while de-funded by $ 286 million. Similarly the CTOL procurement funding will see an inflow of $3.6 billion and 323.5 million but with an outflow of $257 million.

In all the F-35 shows unit cost in 2012-2016 are reaching $141 million a piece for the F-35A (CTOL), $183 million for the F-35B (CV) and $180 million for the F-35C (STOVL)-with development costs factored in. The cost over runs and schedule delays will translate into lower number of aircraft procurements: the US Air Force, US Navy and US Marines reducing their orders by 409 aircraft to the current level of 2,457 jets through 2035 (1,763 Air Force CTOL, 680 US Navy & Marines CV/STOVL + 14 development airframes).


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