U.S. Air Force Identifies Pratt & Whitney, Other Suppliers of B-21

 - March 7, 2016, 5:41 PM
U.S. Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James and Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh III brief reporters at Pentagon. (Photo: U.S. Air Force)

Engine manufacturer Pratt & Whitney will supply the powerplant of the new Northrop Grumman B-21 bomber, the U.S. Air Force revealed on March 7. The service also named several other suppliers participating in the closely guarded bomber program.

Speaking at a “State of the Air Force” briefing at the Pentagon, Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James named East Hartford, Conn.-based Pratt & Whitney; BAE Systems in Nashua, N.H.; GKN Aerospace in St. Louis; Orbital ATK in Clearfield, Utah, and Dayton, Ohio; Rockwell Collins in Cedar Rapids, Iowa; Spirit Aerosystems in Wichita, KS; and Janicki Industries in Sedro-Woolley, Wash., as major suppliers on the B-21. Janicki is a parts and tooling manufacturer that specializes in advance composite materials and exotic metals.

The disclosure was the latest bit of information the Air Force has released on the secretive program, which was originally called the Long Range Strike-Bomber. On February 26, James for the first time revealed an artist’s rendering of the bomber at a conference in Orlando and announced that its designation will be B-21. The Air Force has asked service members to suggest a name. The bomber was shown as a tailless flying wing that resembles the current B-2 Spirit bomber built by Northrop Grumman, although its size could not be discerned. The B-2 is powered by four General Electric F118-GE-100 engines.

Pratt & Whitney now builds the F135 engine of the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II fighter. Among other military aircraft engines it has supplied the F119-PW-100 turbofan of the twin-engine F-22 Raptor; the F100 series of the F-15 and F-16; the F117 of the C-17 Globemaster III; and the TF33 turbofan of the Boeing E-3 Sentry AWACS, E-8C Joint Stars and B-52 Stratofortress. The manufacturer did not immediately respond when asked to comment on the B-21 announcement.

Asked if the service was concerned about the choice of Pratt & Whitney as the sole engine supplier for both the F-35 fighter and the B-21 over GE, James said: “We’re comfortable with the choices and the strategy that we selected.”

The service secretary said the companies participating in the B-21 program are required to have “protection plans” in place to prevent against information leaks. Lt. Gen. Arnold Bunch, Air Force military deputy for acquisition, declined to say where the bomber will be built. During a recent press trip, Northrop Grumman executives suggested the B-21 could be built at the same facility in Palmdale, Calif., where the B-2 was assembled.

Asked if “strategic ambiguity” is important to protecting information about the program, James replied: “Strategic ambiguity is important. I don’t perceive that you’re going to know for years very much more about the technology. This is a balancing act, a desire to share information with the public but also to protect that information and not to put out so much information that a possible adversary can connect dots in ways that we don’t wish those dots to be connected.”