Pratt & Whitney prototyping shop; Poland & F-35s; More KC-46 problems and more.

Taking a page from Silicon Valley, Pratt & Whitney’s year-old GatorWorks division is aiming to accelerate the design and construction of advanced aircraft and missile engines.

“Our scope is all of the new advanced program projects for all of Pratt military engines,” said David Stagney, who leads GatorWorks. “All the new products are coming out of our shop,” including new aircraft engines, upgrades to existing models, and superfast hypersonic engines, Stagney said in an interview on Wednesday.

Pratt & Whitney stood up GatorWorks in early 2018. Now, about 200 or so people are working on some two dozen projects. Based in the swamplands west of Juipter, Florida, its name is both a nod to the many alligators on the factory grounds and a play on Skunk Works, Lockheed Martin’s Advanced Development Programs outfit that designed the U-2 spyplane, SR-71 Blackbird, and many other famed military aircraft. 

Pratt’s prototyping shop is just the latest effort by a defense company to shake up its corporate culture and meet the Pentagon’s demands for advanced technology, quicker. 

“They really wanted us to think differently about the product and technology development processes,” Stagney said.

He said that Matthew Bromberg, the president of Pratt’s military engines division, heard the message from Air Force acquisition chief Will Roper and “a number of other customers that there’s a need for us to be really fast and really innovative to disrupt some of the traditional procurement cycles and technology and product development cycles to figure out how to solve problems in a different way.”

Bromberg’s orders to Stagney: “Cut the cost and lead time of our product and technology development in half.”

GatorWorks operates differently from the rest of Pratt & Whitney’s production.

“We wanted to form small teams that could really try things out and not be afraid to try to break things [and] really learn from actually doing something rather than the traditional approach of extensive amounts of analysis and risk mitigation and planning and risk avoidance,” he said.

One of GatorWorks first projects was building a small engine that could produce 700 pounds of thrust.

“Typically, we would have had a four- to five-year development cycle,” he said. “We would have had…700 to 1,200 requirements that the team would have been given and that pretty much would have defined what that engine was going to look like and how that program was going to go.”

Instead, it set up quarterly sprints, like those used by software companies in the Agile process. (L3 Technologies introduced a similar concept before its merger with Harris, using innovation sprints to speed up its work.) GatorWorks built a prototype of the core of that new engine in a one year.

And in 90 days, it designed, 3D-printed, and tested a fan for a new engine. It’s expected to conduct two additional three-month long sprints to produce a finalized version of that fan. Under traditional development, the effort might have taken two years.

Stagney said the concept starts with a flexible customer. Then “you say, ‘Look, we’re going to plan for these multiple iterations. We don’t know exactly what the ultimate specification or requirements or performance of this product is going to be, but we jointly know the problem that the warfighter is trying to solve and we can absolutely agree on the mission that this product needs to needs to achieve.’”

Then, he said, Pratt and the customer can agree on a contract “where we can define the first iteration together and define the outcome that we’re going to deliver, but give the team enough room to innovate and make some tradeoffs and then incorporate chances to learn and define the second step together as opposed to having this really firm contract and then massive arguments about changes in scope and who’s going to pay for the work that has to be done to make the design work or a change in the scope of work.”

Other projects GatorWorks include: Pratt & Whitney’s proposal for new B-52 engines and “significant technology and performance enhancements” for the engines used by the F-22 Raptor and F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. It’s also looking at new ways to maintain and repair existing military engines. It recently 3D-printed a part for an existing engine that under traditional manufacturing is made up of 99 separate parts.

One of GatorWorks’ projects saved a customer $49 million — 37 percent of planned cost, Stagney said. 

“That’s requiring the customer to think differently about their terms and conditions about the way that we structure the contract,” he said.

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Poland Moves Closer to Buying F-35

Let this serve as exhibit one of how the U.S. government can fast-track arms sales. Officials began publicly talking about the possibility of a deal for 32 planes in the spring. In June visit to Washington, the White House arranged for an F-35 to fly over the South Lawn during a visit from Polish President Andrzej Duda. This week, the State Department has approved the deal, which could be worth $6.5 billion.

KC-46 Has Another Problem

The Air Force is not allowing the troubled Boeing-made tanker to carry cargo or passengers because items could become unlocked mid-flight, meaning they could crash into people or destabilize the plane causing it to crash, Defense News’ Val Insinna reports. It’s the latest black eye for the project after the Air Force found parts, tools and other debris that Boeing left inside tankers during while they were being built.

Speaking of Boeing, CEO Dennis Muilenburg said at a Wednesday Morgan Stanley investor conference that the company was still targeting an early fourth-quarter return to flight of the 737 Max airliner, grounded since March after two deadly crashes.

Despite those woes, and a major hit to its stock price, Morgan Stanley set its price target for Boeing at $500. BA closed at $382.94 on Wednesday. The stock peaked in March at $440.62, according to the Wall Street Journal.

GD Moves HQ

After 15 years in Falls Church, General Dynamics moved its corporate headquarters about 20 west to Reston. The previous headquarters, at the intersection of the Capital Beltway and Route 50, was across the street from Northrop Grumman’s corporate HQ. General Dynamics has more than 13,500 employees around the Washington area.

BAE CEO Stands By Saudi Sales

In his first interview as BAE Systems CEO, Charles Woodburn told the Financial Times said the company will comply with all export regulations. “There are always geopolitical uncertainties beyond our control, but I encourage my team to focus on those things that we can control,” he told the FT this week. “We are a resilient business and have a geographically diverse portfolio with growth in almost every area of our business.” His comments follow a June British court ruling the U.K.’s arms sales to Saudi arabia are unlawful, prompting the government to say it would not issue new arms sales licenses. Germany has suspended arms sales to Saudi through the end of September.

A Step Closer to a Robotic Battlefield

Raytheon and Lockheed Martin fired a Javelin anti-tank missile from an unmanned ground vehicle built by QinetiQ North America and Milrem Robotics. For more about what the robotic battlefield is closer than you might think, check out the Center for Public Integrity’s deep dive on the subject from Zach Biggs here.

Making Moves

JUST IN: Anthony “Toby” O’Brien, Raytheon’s CFO, has been chosen to become CFO of Raytheon Technologies, the company formed by merger of Raytheon and United Technologies. Raytheon CEO Tom Kennedy made the announcement on Thursday morning at Morgan Stanley investors conference in Laguna Beach, California.

John Bolton is out as President Trump’s national security advisor. Does that matter for defense investors? “Trump’s firing of John Bolton as National Security Adviser is a minor sentiment negative for the U.S. defense sector, but will have to be weighed against who replaces him and the broader security environment in 2019-21,” Byron Callan of Capital Alpha Partners writes in a Sept. 10 note to investors. No word yet on Bolton’s replacement, but Trump tweeted he would announced that person next week.

Brian LaRoche, a retired U.S. Navy rear admiral, has been named vice president and chief operating officer of Cubic Mission Solutions. Before joining Cubic, he held leadership positions at Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, Northrop Grumman, and BAE Systems.

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