Volume 03, Issue 4
By Kathleen Cook
When the U.S. Navy announced in June that Boeing had won the Multi-mission Maritime Aircraft competition, it was a victory for all of Boeing—one that vividly underscores the value of diverse teams and individuals working together to develop the best possible solution for the customer.
Under the MMA contract, Boeing will supply the U.S. Navy with the next generation of submarine-hunting planes. A Boeing 737-800 aircraft (modified with -900 wings) will serve as the platform to replace the Navy’s current anti-submarine patrol aircraft, the Lockheed Martin P-3 Orion. The initial contract is for system design and development, during which Boeing will produce five aircraft—three for static and loads testing and two for flight testing.
The MMA program ultimately could be worth about $44 billion if the Navy proceeds with its plan to buy 108 aircraft. Boeing will employ 1,600 people to design and build the MMA, which will have a crew of nine and a weapons bay that can deploy antisubmarine torpedoes, air-to-surface missiles and underwater mines.
Jack Zerr, who led the Boeing MMA team during the competition, characterized the win as representing the best of Boeing and best of industry. “We couldn’t have gotten here without partners on each side contributing their maximum effort. This was a total partnership, a total buyin,” he said.
In order to demonstrate the 737 airframe could fly the mission and that its systems were well suited to the mission, Boeing looked at the Navy’s requirements and then explored the possibilities and solutions.
Integrated Defense Systems team members understood the Navy and the mission requirements, but they needed and worked very closely with Boeing Commercial Airplanes team members to explore what the airframe could do.
“We had great support from IDS and from BCA,” said Zerr. “Boeing had the best solution for the U.S. Navy, but it was the partnership among IDS, BCA and key suppliers that made it possible to offer the MMA capability at a price the Navy could afford.”
Once team members were convinced the 737 could fly the mission and provide capabilities the customer had not even imagined, they believed they had a winning proposal—if they could convince the Navy, the analysts and the media.
“We knew ours was the best solution for our former shipmates,” said Tim Norgart, Boeing campaign manager for the MMA and a former P-3 wing commander. “We offered a quantum leap forward in technology, a jet to replace a prop plane. Our bigger challenge was to establish credibility with U.S. Navy officials and show them why we were convinced ours was the right solution.”
But, there were skeptics. How could a 737 be less expensive than an upgraded P-3, Lockheed Martin’s planned submission? And how could a 737 fly the low missions that were part of maritime patrol operations?
Again, Boeing team members worked together to provide substantiating engineering data on the proposal, which included wind tunnel tests conducted at Boeing’s expense. They created and showed computer simulations and videos at air and trade shows. They made presentations to multiple groups and had ongoing conversations with key decision makers.
Their most compelling argument was to fly Navy P-3 pilots and members of the media on two 737 Boeing Business Jet trips to prove that the 737 could perform all required maneuvers.
With a P-3 pilot in the copilot seat, the MMA flight crew flew the BBJ 200 feet over the water, shut down one of the two turbofan engines and climbed to 41,000 feet. At that altitude, they performed several other maneuvers that turned skeptics into believers.
The job wasn’t complete, however. There was still a need to make this increased capability affordable. Boeing easily could demonstrate that there was an existing spare parts system for the aircraft. Support centers in North and South America, Europe, Asia, Africa and Australia facilitate spare parts distribution for more than 10,000 Boeing aircraft worldwide. Boeing could also solidly back up its assertion that the 737 could get on station faster and stay on station longer than the P-3. The company had reams of data on the reliability of the aircraft’s engines, and could demonstrate the open-system architecture the Navy needed for the mission system.
“What the team needed to refine was production,” said Zerr. “We scrutinized our proposal and asked ourselves, ‘Have we done everything we can to best serve our customer?’”
From a technology standpoint, the team was satisfied. But it believed it could reduce costs further by rethinking Boeing’s traditional way of militarizing commercial aircraft. Initially, the Boeing MMA team planned to modify the 737 by assembling a green aircraft in Seattle, then flying it to Wichita, Kan., for modifications. But while preparing its initial submission, the team realized there had to be a better way than to fully assemble an air-craft, then essentially tear it apart to install systems and reinforce where needed for its military role.
IDS and BCA team members launched a study to determine the feasibility of seven possible production alternatives, including the traditional process. Two alternatives involved establishing assembly lines, either in Wichita or Renton, Wash., that would meet the requirements of U.S. International Traffic in Arms Regulations. The team decided that opening a new, ITAR-compliant line in Renton close to the existing 737 line offered the greatest economy in manufacturing. Wichita will still produce the MMA’s fuselage.
By doing so, Boeing was able to make MMA more affordable. “They (BCA) have well-developed assembly processes,” Zerr said. “We will get the same product, product, with a less risky assembly process at a lower price.” Under this production plan, the Boeing MMA team expects to save a year in the assembly process and field aircraft for the Navy by 2012 instead of the required service date of 2013.
What were the factors that enabled Boeing to capture MMA? Jim Albaugh, Boeing IDS president and CEO, cited the incredible reliability of the 737—better than 99 percent in commercial service—as a key factor in the win.
“As soon as the first 737 MMA aircraft are delivered to the Navy, our nation’s naval forces will have a dramatic increase in capability and reliability,” he said. The Navy’s stated requirement for reliability is 90 percent, much higher than the existing availability rate of approximately 60 percent for the P-3s.
Value was another of the reasons the Navy cited in awarding the contract to Boeing. At a news conference to announce the contract award, John Young, assistant secretary of the Navy for research, development and acquisition, said Boeing offered a slightly lower cost for development than Lockheed Martin.
Young emphasized, however, that cost was not the only consideration. He said the company’s record of managing aircraft programs and delivering aircraft on time tipped the competition in Boeing’s favor, and the 737 offered space and flexibility that the Orion 21 could not match.
“Additionally, the new 737 aircraft offers a modern, highly reliable airframe, which will be equipped with improved maritime surveillance and attack capability, allowing a smaller force to provide worldwide responsiveness,” Young said.
Because of the 737’s proven reliability, the Navy expects to buy 108 MMAs to replace more than 200 existing P-3s.
In news reports surrounding the announcement, industry analysts were enthusiastic about the award. Schwab Soundview Capital Markets analyst Howard Rubel said the Boeing win “demonstrates the versatility of [Boeing] airframes.” He characterized the contract award as “one of the more important decisions the Navy has made in a long time.” Paul Nisbet, a military analyst with JSA Research, agreed: “It’s a bold move for the Navy.”
Affordability, reliability and capability were indeed critical factors in capturing MMA. But it was teamwork that closed the deal, Boeing officials said.
“It was a great meshing of unique talents and outlooks that won the day,” said Zerr. “Diverse business approaches helped us reach an objective answer and ultimately allowed us to give unequaled value to our customer.”
“Without the power of bringing all [Boeing’s] heritage companies together, we wouldn’t have had this win,” said Albaugh.
“Putting together the MMA proposal is the greatest example of working together that I’ve seen during my time at Boeing,” Boeing President and CEO Harry Stonecipher said.
“[BCA President and CEO] Alan Mulally’s people and Jim Albaugh’s people came together with us and said, ‘This is a huge opportunity—a huge opportunity for the company. This is not just about the U.S. Navy. This is about a worldwide market.’”
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