WASHINGTON — The Pentagon this week awarded Pratt & Whitney a sole-source contract worth as much as $870 million to sustain the Cold War-era TF33 engines that power the Air Force’s B-52H Stratofortress and E-3 Sentry aircraft.
The Defense Logistics Agency’s base contract with the company is for six years, with an optional four-year extension, the Pentagon said Tuesday. The initial award value of the firm-fixed-price and cost-type contract is $40.7 million, which the company would cover the first two years.
The contract also has a six-month transition period. If the Pentagon exercises all options with Pratt & Whitney, a subsidiary of RTX Corp., work would be completed in April 2034.
With the Air Force moving to retire its remaining E-3 airborne warning and control system, or AWACS, aircraft and replace the B-52′s six-decade-old engines with a new propulsion system from Rolls-Royce, the contract could cover sustainment for the rest of the TF33′s life.
Pratt & Whitney will sustain nearly 1,000 TF33 engines under this contract, including providing maintenance, spare parts, program management, field service, repairs and engineering support, it said in a statement. Work will take place at Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma and other Air Force locations, as well as Pratt & Whitney’s Atlanta-based Southern Logistics Center.
Caroline Cooper, a Pratt & Whitney executive who oversees engine programs including the TF33, told Defense News that the contract will provide new avenues to keep those remaining engines flying.
“We’re looking at … the operational tempo of the aircraft [flying with TF33 engines], and then looking at inherent risks in the supply chain, and wanted to build that upper limit so that we can move quickly and expeditiously to get the men and women in the Air Force what they need,” Cooper said.
One of the most pressing concerns has been keeping the supply of spare parts for the aging engines flowing, Cooper said. The TF33 relied on “mom and pop-type suppliers” making niche parts in low volume, some of whom have gone out of business over the years, she said.
This contract provides funding for Pratt & Whitney to make those hard-to-find parts itself, or find new companies that can fabricate them, she said.
Cooper also said the contract will give the company greater access to the Air Force’s maintenance databases at Tinker and other bases for the TF33, so it can have a better picture of what the engine’s needs are. That can include more up-to-date information on spare parts supplies or what repairs are being conducted – information Pratt & Whitney hasn’t always had in the past, and that could allow the company to forecast what spare parts and engineering support will be needed in the future.
The contract will also provide for more Pratt & Whitney personnel at Tinker’s depot. It will also allow Pratt & Whitney to station teams of engine specialists at bases who would be able to help the Air Force’s uniformed maintainers troubleshoot and fix some of the engine’s trickier repair problems. Cooper said that in the past, Pratt & Whitney has had a smaller team specialists rotate through bases, but this will be a more permanent on-site arrangement.
“We’ll get that intelligence directly from the maintainers, and [will] be able to combine that with our enhanced depot level support team at Tinker,” Cooper said.
Stephen Losey is the air warfare reporter for Defense News. He previously covered leadership and personnel issues at Air Force Times, and the Pentagon, special operations and air warfare at Military.com. He has traveled to the Middle East to cover U.S. Air Force operations.