United Technologies Corp. (UTX)’s Pratt & Whitney unit and its subcontractors will pay the entire cost of grounding the Pentagon’s F-35B fighters in January because of a propulsion-system flaw, the unit’s top official said.
“Pratt and the propulsion contractor team is paying,” Bennett Croswell, president of Pratt & Whitney’s Military Engines unit, said in an e-mailed statement. Pratt & Whitney spokesman Matthew Bates said the company won’t disclose the cost.
Test flights of the F-35B, the Marine Corps version of the F-35 built by Lockheed Martin Corp. (LMT), were stopped Jan. 18 after a pilot aborted a takeoff. The incident involved a line in the plane’s fueldraulic system, which saves weight by using jet fuel instead of the customary hydraulic fluid to lubricate mechanical parts. The grounding lasted 26 days.
The F-35B is designed for short takeoffs and landings on carriers and amphibious-warfare vessels. It’s the most complex of three models of the F-35, the Pentagon’s costliest program. The militaries of the U.K. and Italy also are buying the F-35B.
An examination found that “insufficient crimping” of a fluid hose was the cause, Vice Admiral David Dunaway, commander of the Navy’s Air Systems Command, said in a Feb. 12 memo to Navy Secretary Ray Mabus.
“The majority of hoses were outside of manufacturing limits,” according to the memo. The grounding was lifted in mid-February after 50 hoses were removed from 25 aircraft and evaluated with scanners and laboratory testing. New hoses were installed.
“Pratt and the team reviewed the supplier’s quality program and the steps that they had taken and are comfortable that steps in place will ensure the integrity of the product,” Croswell said. The “industry team stands behind the quality of the product and has taken the necessary steps to correct the issue at no additional cost to the government.”
The flawed fueldraulic line was made by Stratoflex Products Division, a unit of Cleveland-based Parker Hannifin Corp. (PH), which in turn is a subcontractor to Rolls-Royce Plc, which makes most of the system that lifts the plane.
“Pratt & Whitney has not sought any government reimbursement of costs related to the investigation and correction of the Stratoflex hose, and we do not have insight into their costs,” Joe DellaVedova, a spokesman for the Pentagon’s F-35 program, said in an e-mailed statement.
“Parker Aerospace fully supports our F-135 customers, and is working collaboratively with them to ensure the highest standards in manufacturing, inspection, and quality,” company spokeswoman Cheryl Flohr said in an e-mail. Rolls-Royce spokesman George McLaren referred comment to Pratt & Whitney.
The Senate appropriations defense subcommittee is scheduled on June 19 to review the entire $391.2 billion F-35 program as part of its oversight of the Pentagon’s fiscal 2014 budget request. The other three defense committees that have acted on their bills have supported funding the 29 jets requested.
“Some politicians seem eager to paint F-35 contractors as profiteers who continue to thrive even with sequestration and austerity, so picking up the check is smart insurance against a serious headache,” Aboulafia, of the Fairfax, Virginia-based Teal Group, said in an e-mail.
The Pentagon inspector general is conducting a review of how well quality is managed by F-35 contractors.
“We’ve been to several contractor and subcontracting sites” and “looked at whether the government’s getting what they paid for,” acting Inspector General Lynne Halbrooks told a House panel March 19.
“We’ve issued notices of concern with respect to the quality management and oversight at each of those plants,” she said without disclosing names.
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