By Andrea Shalal
NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. (Reuters) - Pratt & Whitney, a unit of United Technologies Corp (UTX.N), on Monday said it is working closely with suppliers to prepare for a large ramp-up in production in coming years of the F135 engine that powers the Lockheed Martin Corp (LMT.N) F-35 fighter jet.
Bennett Croswell, who heads Pratt's military engines division, said the company was seeking to ensure it had at least two suppliers for every major component, and was also carrying out production readiness reviews of key suppliers, and the companies that build parts for them.
"Capacity is good, but we have to make sure we get the quality right as well," Croswell told Reuters at the annual Air Force Association conference. "We're ready for the ramp."
The Air Force general who runs the $391 billion F-35 program for the Pentagon said last week that production of the stealth supersonic fighter jet is accelerating rapidly, but the steep ramp-up could stress suppliers.
Production of the jets is slated to rise from 40 planes a year to more than 120 a year over the next three years.
Croswell said the company was in negotiations with the Pentagon about 160 engines in the next two low-rate production contracts, and agreement should be reached before year-end.
He said the ninth batch would include 60 engines, rising to 100 in the tenth batch, with the increase enabling further cost reductions. "It will be a good thing from a cost perspective."
Pratt has already delivered 240 engines, he said, noting the company was meeting cost reduction commitments set in 2009 and a 90-percent reliability target was five years ahead of schedule.
Pratt is encouraging U.S. officials to consider engine upgrades that would draw on the company's work on two separate engine improvement programs run by the U.S. Navy and the Air Force, and could improve the engine's fuel economy by 7 percent.
Croswell said the upgrades could be installed on the engines when they come in for major maintenance every eight to 10 years.
Pratt also plans to submit a bid in coming days for a separate $1 billion Air Force program aimed at developing a next-generation jet engine with 25 percent greater fuel economy and 10 percent more thrust.
The new "adaptive" engine program aims to develop an engine that can be configured to optimize the jets to fly fast or cover long distances. General Electric Co (GE.N) is also participating in the program.
(Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Ken Wills)