Bombardier president and CEO Eric Martel underscored the company’s expansive plans for its defense segment in Wichita, estimating this week during the Aero Montreal International Aerospace Innovation Forum that it could become a $1 billion business.
While the number was characterized as hypothetical, Bombardier has long had a special-mission business. Also, it is well on its way to scaling that up with a contract awarded in 2021 from the U.S. Air Force for up to six Global 6000s for use in the Battlefield Airborne Communications Node (BACN) program with a potential value of nearly $465 million.
This work is beginning to fill space in Wichita that became available with the ending of Learjet production. After it delivered the final Learjet model this year, Bombardier renamed its site in Wichita as its U.S. headquarters and rebranded what had been its Specialized Aircraft business there as Bombardier Defense.
Led by v-p Steven Patrick, the newly dubbed defense unit currently occupies one of the former Learjet production hangars. But given the work already in the pipeline and possibilities on the horizon, Patrick outlined a vision to expand its footprint.
“We’re starting from this one hangar and we've got a couple of airplanes and modifications just now. If you come back here 12 months from now, you will see two hangars fully occupied. And, if you come back here a couple of years, I'm hoping a lot more hangars will be fully occupied,” Patrick said.
He added Bombardier has made the strategic decision to be more deliberative in defense. “We see great potential,” Patrick said. Bombardier has delivered specialized aircraft for more than 20 years. In the past, Patrick said, "Typically, we were delivering airplanes and they've been getting modified, but usually at a third party. What we decided strategically was to bring that in-house. We knew there was a pipeline of work there already. The only decision to make was where. And so this is the perfect opportunity.”
He noted Wichita comes with a purpose-built manufacturing facility and a well-trained specialized workforce.
"We have got a team of people who have worked on Learjets, they've worked at the service center, they've worked on flight test for years. That combination of skills, abilities, and attitude for taking on challenges means that we can do things faster, more, efficiently, more flexibly than perhaps our competition can.”
When Bombardier began to roll out the future strategy for Wichita, “It was obvious,” he said. Patrick pointed to the footprint and told company executives, “I can fill this, I can fill that." adding, "It just made so much sense to do this. This is not in any way, shape, or form speculative. This is strategically necessary. I need space.”
The U.S. Air Force contract is the anchor, but Bombardier has other prospects, most of which it can’t discuss. But it is eying multiple programs both within the U.S. and with other international entities.
As for the BACN program, Bombardier had already delivered four Globals to the USAF when the indefinite delivery indefinite quantity contract for the additional work was announced last year. Under the program, Patrick said the service will use the Global as sort of a “flying cell phone tower” linking together aircraft from different services.
The Globals arrive from Toronto and are modified in Wichita with antennas and an interior configured with equipment racks. “We do all the design, procurement, manufacturing, installation, and certification. We do the full range of modifications here,” Patrick said. He noted that the aircraft are made mission equipment-ready and flown to Northrop Grumman, where the classified payload equipment is installed. “Today, we don’t have a classified facility here. We’ll work on that in time.”