RIDLEY PARK, Pa. — Flush with a $4 billion multiyear deal for at least 58 V-22 Ospreys, Boeing [BA] is investing $100 million in a brand-new production line to crank out the tiltrotor fuselages beginning next year.
Boeing and its 50/50 partner on the V-22 Bell [TXT], on June 29 took home a $4.2 billion contract to build 58 Ospreys for the U.S. military and the Japanese Self-Defense Forces. The deal also converts a previously awarded V-22 advanced acquisition contract to a fixed-price multi-year arrangement.
The contract includes 39 CMV-22B aircraft for the Navy, 14 MV-22B aircraft for the Marine Corps, one CV-22B for the Air Force and four MV-22B aircraft for Japan. The existing factory is downsizing and slowing production as the Marine Corps nears its 360-aircraft program of record.
During a July 23 ceremony at Boeing’s manufacturing plant here, Joint Program Manager Marine Col. Matthew Kelly said the third multi-year contract has “stabilized the production line for the next five years.”
Boeing already has begun building the first of at least 44 CMV-22s the Navy will use for carrier onboard delivery (COD) in place of the C-2 Greyhound. Replacing the fixed-wing C-2 with a tiltrotor increases the flexibility of the onboard delivery mission because the Osprey is not dependent on the carrier for a landing zone as it can also land on some types of amphibious ships. It also is the only aircraft that can deliver the 10,000-pound F135 engine for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.
U.S. Special Operations Command has recently increased its program of record from 50 to 54 so it has some in reserve to cover battle losses, Kelly said.
Japan is the first international customer for V-22 and plans to buy 17 aircraft. Deliveries of Japanese Osprey’s should begin toward the end of 2018. The multiyear contract includes locked-in pre-negotiated prices for other nations who are in the market for a tiltrotor platform.
“We’re talking to multiple international customers about the aircraft,” Kelly said. “For a while, [potential] customers have been watching the V-22 and how it’s employed by the U.S. services, deciding if they want to get this capability to satisfy their own needs.”
“We think it’s a good time, frankly, for international customers to get in the mix,” he added. “We do have pre-negotiated pricing. There’s room in the multiyear. In addition, these aircraft … are not the aircraft that were coming off the line 15 years ago. Even from this multiyear to the last multiyear, we’ve got over 25 different improvements that have gone into the airframe that they’ll get right off the production line that aircraft even a few years ago don’t have.”
Multiyear three is the final contract for V-22 production and Boeing is banking on foreign military sales customers wanting to get in under the wire, said Rick Lemaster, the company’s director of tiltrotor porgams. Any nation buying F-35s and planning to deploy them on ships are target customers, as are countries with special operations forces that need to travel long distances without refueling or relying on developed infrastructure, he said.
“We’re looking to people who have navies where they’re ranging from their home territory by a certain distance that makes resupply by helicopters not very practical,” Lemaster said. “Those are the kinds of customers we want to go talk to. Also, because of the ability to carry the F135 power module, we look at customers that have an F-35B. If they have an F-35B and are going to be operating off ships, then we think V-22 will be a good solution to some of the problems that we’re helping the U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps solve.”
Kelly specifically identified Israel and the U.K. as potential V-22 operators. When and if those or other new customers come online, their aircraft will be built at Boeing’s new V-22 production facility currently under construction on the same campus as the existing line.
Boeing’s Ridley Park manufacturing facility outside Philadelphia is shaped like a huge horseshoe. Production of the various H-47 heavylift helicopter models is done on one arm of the horseshoe. The company is spending $100 million to renovate 350,000 square feet of the opposing arm to house V-22 fuselage production and a facility to remanufacture old Marine Corps MV-22s.
The current 135,000-square-foot V-22 production line will actually be downsized to fewer stations and just 85,000 square feet in its new home, to which it will transition between March and May 2019. Given the opportunity to design a factory from scratch, Boeing is reducing the space and time it takes to build the V-22. It also will increase automation, which the company already has introduced at some stations on the existing production line.
Boeing already has remanufactured one MV-22 under the new Common Configuration Readiness and Modernization (CCRAM) program. A second is being torn down and rebuilt at the Ridley Park plant now. The third and final “pathfinder” aircraft will fly straight to the new facility in January, according to Kristin Houston, Boeing’s V-22 program manager.
As V-22s rolled off the production line and almost directly into combat over the past decade, they were loaded with the most up-to-date technologies, resulting in more than 70 configurations in the Marine Corps fleet. Under a $69.6 million contract, Bell and Boeing are baselining the three pathfinder aircraft to Block C configuration and developing a process for eventually streamlining most or all of the Marine Corps’ 129 Block B aircraft to Block C configuration, Kelly said.
“We want to increase reliability and decrease maintenance cost by making maintenance easier, by reducing the logistics footprint and complexity,” Kelly said.
Ultimately, the Marines want to field a fleet of about five configurations of V-22. That will at least allow common configurations on each coast and among aircraft deployed to a specific region, Kelly said.