The Air Force yesterday announced the results of the second round of its great fighter engine competition, giving General Electric Co. a continuing edge but pulling Pratt & Whitney out of the hole it tumbled into last year.
The Air Force said it will split next year's jet fighter engine business -- about $1.3 billion worth -- between the two manufacturers, with GE getting 54 percent of the business and Pratt & Whitney getting 46 percent. Last year, the Air Force stunned Pratt & Whitney, which had been the sole producer of Air Force fighter engines for years, by allowing GE into the market for the first time and giving it 75 percent of the year's orders.
Air Force officials said that Pratt & Whitney, a division of United Technologies Corp., improved its share in the highly unusual competition this year by offering a better warranty on its engines' durability and fuel efficiency. One industry official said that Pratt & Whitney executives also worked hard to improve their relations with Air Force officers, who had said that the company grew arrogant and unresponsive during its monopoly years.
"A lot of shoe leather was worn out and a lot of changing of image went on over there," the industry official said.
Air Force Secretary Verne Orr said the service will keep the two firms in a competitive posture for the foreseeable future, changing the balance between them each year if circumstances warrant. The program is unprecedented for the Air Force, whose major weapon system contracts may be awarded competitively but then usually become sole-source for the duration of production.
"We have truly gained all the classical benefits of competition," Orr said in a statement released yesterday. "We now have management responsiveness and technical innovation. We have price benefits, warranties and the data that will allow us to buy spare parts directly from subcontractors.
The Air Force said it plans to buy more than 2,000 engines during a 20-year period for about $16 billion in 1983 dollars. That total is between $3 billion and $4 billion less than the Air Force would have spent if it had not kept the two companies in competition, Orr estimated.
"We look forward to having these two excellent engine manufacturers vying for Air Force fighter engine business in the future," he said.
As might be expected after a near-tie, neither contestant exulted but both professed to be satisfied.
"We are delighted with the Air Force decision," Brian Brimelow, GE program general manager, said in a statement released in Washington. "Any thought of disappointment should be brushed aside."
"We're pleased that the Air Force has chosen our engine for its F15 and some of its F16 fighter aircraft," Arthur E. Wegner, president of Pratt & Whitney, said in a statement also released here. "Our proposal, which included a strong warranty package, reflects the confidence we have in the durability and performance of this engine."
Last year, for its fiscal 1985 purchase, the Air Force bought 120 GE engines, which are manufactured in Ohio, and 40 Pratt & Whitney engines, made in Connecticut. The GE engines were exclusively for the single-engine F16 fighter and the Pratt & Whitney was designated for the more expensive twin-engine F15, which is now being purchased in fewer numbers than the F16.
The Air Force yesterday announced that for fiscal 1986 it will buy 184 GE engines, again all for F16s, and 159 Pratt & Whitney engines, which will be divided among both planes. As a consolation for losing its one-year monopoly on F16 engines, however, GE won a promise from the Air Force that the F15 will be reconfigured to accept either engine in future years.
Both engines, the Air Force said, are "vastly superior" to the existing Pratt & Whitney F100 engine, which had a stalling problem in its early years and has always been extremely expensive to maintain. The GE F110 engine is a derivative of the F101 engine being produced for the B1 bomber, while the Pratt & Whitney F100-PW-220 is an improved version of the model now in use.