In its spend plan submitted to the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee on the 29th May, the Department of Defense (DoD) highlighted the supply chain for TF33 parts as an area of particular concern. The TF33 is the US Air Force (USAF) designation for Pratt & Whitney’s JT3D turbofan aircraft engine, and is in currently in service on platforms such as the B-52. However, the TF33 is no longer produced by Pratt & Whitney. With the B-52 projected to remain in service until 2050, and a contract for engine replacement not being expected until June 2021, a network of small contractors is relied upon to provide parts to keep these platforms flying. Harry Boneham, Associate Analyst at GlobalData, comments, ‘it could be argued that the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed existing weaknesses in DoD supply chains, and the TF33 supply chain is an example of this. Without the support of a major prime, suppliers for the TF33 are particularly exposed.’
Suppliers have been impacted more heavily by the COVID-19 pandemic than prime contractors, with the 3.74% of suppliers having closed in comparison to 1.01% of prime contractors. This disparity has been recognised by the DoD. On 30th April, Undersecretary for Acquisition and Sustainment Ellen Lord indicated that it was the responsibility of major primes to ensure the health of their own supply chains, spreading DoD support to distressed companies and small businesses. For example, from the beginning of the COVID -19 pandemic, Lockheed Martin has provided $156 million, with a further $450 estimated, in accelerated payments down its supply chains.
However, this is support which TF33 parts producers lack, and subsequently they particularly require government support. The DoD has set up a $688 million Defense Production Act programme, to ‘fund defense industrial base (DIB) issues directly impacted by COVID-19 effects’. Within this programme, 21.8% is budgeted for preservation and sustainment of the aircraft propulsion industrial base, with the TF33 specifically mentioned as a core concern.