—John A. Tirpak
January 28, 2008— Boeing and Lockheed Martin officially formed a team to jointly pursue the Air Force’s next-generation bomber program about a year ago, but kept the arrangement hush-hush, company officials said during their Jan. 25 teleconference divulging the arrangement.
Informal talks began “within the last 36 months,” said Darryl Davis, president of Boeing’s Advanced Systems unit. The two prime aircraft makers have quietly been sharing knowledge, concepts, and analyses of what the next bomber, which USAF wants in the field in 2018, should be.
Davis and Frank Cappuccio, Lockheed's strategic planner and Skunkworks general manager, said the companies decided to announce the teaming arrangement now because they think they’ll need every minute of time between now and the expected release of USAF’s request for proposals in 2010 to conduct trade studies and make sure that the technologies they propose are ready for use in a flying program. The time will be spent maturing those technologies and actually testing them out, so that the Air Force can have high confidence that the team will deliver on time, they said.
They declined to say if either company will be the “leader” in their teaming arrangement, citing such information as “proprietary” at this time.
The two companies haven’t settled on anything specific because the Air Force has yet to define its requirements—something they expect to happen within the next 12 to 18 months, they said. They anticipate funding to appear in USAF’s Fiscal 2010 budget.
Cappuccio said selecting a design now makes no sense because it would be guaranteed “obsolescent” when USAF makes its requirements firm. Moreover, if the Air Force requirements change after a design is chosen, it would be hard to get designers and engineers to “let go” of their “pet animal,” even if it no longer answered USAF’s needs, he said.
Cappuccio said he’s confident the 2018 goal can be met because the Pentagon “uses terms like ‘time certain,’ ” on the program and has demonstrated a willingness to freeze a design and not constantly add capabilities or requirements, which create delay and performance issues. Given those conditions, it should be possible to make the deadline, he said, noting that lessons have been learned from the F-22 and F-35 programs.
To make the Air Force’s 2018 deadline for having the new bomber ready for action, the airplane would have to be in flight test by 2015 and in production by 2016, Davis said. The aircraft will have to be powered by an off-the-shelf engine or a variant of one flying today, because time will not permit the use of an all-new powerplant, he said. However, the Boeing-Lockheed Martin team will design its aircraft to be able to take advantage of new variable-cycle engine technology as a product improvement after the first iterations reach the ramp, he said. The team hasn't yet affiliated with any particular engine manufacturer.
Cappuccio said too much has been made about whether the aircraft will be manned, unmanned, or “optionally manned,” noting that the knowledge is well in hand for operating aircraft remotely, as with F-16 and F-4 target drones. It will be the Air Force’s choice as to where the bomber’s operators will sit.
The two officials also said their proposal will benefit from extensive prototyping and flight-testing done on concepts to date, but that no full-scale or subscale demonstrator has been made. The capabilities inherent in a notional FB-22 bomber variant of the F-22A Raptor don’t match where the Air Force is going on its 2018 bomber and will not be proposed, they said.
Lockheed approached both Boeing and Northrop Grumman about teaming on the 2018 bomber, Cappuccio said. But after meeting with both, it ultimately decided that Boeing’s experience with fighters, bombers, and big airplanes was a “more competitive” complement to Lockheed’s own competencies in rapid prototyping, stealth, and materials, he said.
He praised Northrop's work as a partner on the F-35 program, but said the business case made Boeing the better choice for the bomber program. There were some issues with Northrop Grumman on “openness,” which apparently hasn’t been a problem with Boeing, he said.
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