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Leading aerospace supplier Spirit AeroSystems aims to expand military and space business

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Aircraft makers Boeing and Airbus received a lot of attention in the early months of the coronavirus pandemic as airlines grounded fleets and canceled new aircraft purchases. But Spirit Aerosystems, the main supplier of both, has been hit very hard.

The Wichita, Kansas-based company is perhaps best known for building green passenger fuselages, but Boeing halted production of the 737 Max a year ago after two fatal crashes. I had already dealt with that. Then came the pandemic. In total, the company laid off more than 5,000 of his employees.

Management saw how dependent Spirit was on commercial operations and decided they needed more diversified operations, one that included more military work. Over the next 16 months, executives have plans that include becoming a major supplier of hypersonic weapons and space systems to major defense companies.

Duane Hawkins, President of Spirit AeroSystems Defense & Space, said: said in an interview in July.

The prospects for Spirit are much better than they were two years ago, as airlines start ordering planes again. The company has recalled many of the workers it laid off in 2020 and plans to hire a further 2,600 over the next few years, especially as demand rises for narrowbody aircraft, which are primarily used on domestic flights.

“We have always been committed to diversifying our portfolio into defense, [the pandemic and Max grounding] Understanding how much exposure we have without having a diversified portfolio probably gave us more oomph,” Hawkins said. It’s time we really, really double our efforts.”

Among the moves included the hiring of Joshua Boehm as Vice President of Defense Business Development and Strategy. Böhm said defense companies he’s BAE Systems, Raytheon, Boos he’s Allen he’s Hamilton he’s worked for nearly 20 years, but adding him will “be a little more aggressive and come up with a long-term strategy” It was a move, Hawkins said.

The goal is to have the business be 40% commercial, 40% defense and 20% aftermarket work.

“We have developed a strategy that we believe will work for decades to come,” Hawkins said. “We are flexible enough to accommodate any changes.”

Spirit executives believe the way they approach business and production methods will be attractive to the Pentagon and defense companies.

“We can actually go from design to production pretty quickly… maybe faster than usual in the defense world,” Hawkins said. “That’s because we’re designing with production in mind.”

Hawkins said the company now has “hundreds” of engineers with security clearances, compared to less than 100 “just a few years ago.” Security clearances allow engineers to work on classified military projects.

Big contractors are already relying more on Spirit, Boehm said. Spirit has been a key force in several high-priority weapons projects, including his B-21 stealth bomber for the Air Force, his CH-53K heavy lift helicopter for the Marine Corps, and his P-8 maritime patrol aircraft for the Navy. Supplier. Boeing recently hired the company to build new pylons and nacelles for the engines that will power the B-52 bomber.

Defense and space projects now account for 18-20% of Spirit’s workload, up from about 5% in 2020, Hawkins said. The defense and space business is expected to grow by 50 percent by 2025 in existing jobs alone, Boehm said.

Management has identified five areas to target for new business, and Spirit management estimates that there will be about $8 billion in potentially competitive new business over the next few years.

At the top of the list is the next-generation aircraft program, which Boehm said is “the core of the existing Spirit portfolio.” The Department of Defense is planning several new aircraft programs, including next-generation fighters for the Air Force and Navy and helicopters for the Army. Spirit builds the fuselage for Bell’s V-280 tiltrotor. This is the Army’s possible successor to the Black Hawk.

The company also has “several different campaigns and activities underway” to become part of the hypersonic weapons program, Boehm said. Other areas the company is pursuing: missile defense targets, missiles and interceptors. unmanned aerial vehicles; and space.

Boehm said space is “the greenest part of the portfolio,” but recently entered into a strategic partnership with Sierra Space.

“This is an area where we have very specific plans for growth,” he said.

FMI has a contract to provide NASA with thermal protection materials, so management said Spirit’s January 2020 acquisition of FMI, a composite materials maker based in Maine, was used for high-speed flight extremes. It is viewed as a special source for developing sonic missile structures and a gateway to space operations.

The acquisition prompted management to change the name of the business to Defense and Space. Changing the way financial reporting is done, he splits his business into three: commercial, defense and space, and aftermarket. The financial change “convinced everyone at that point that we were serious about what we were doing in terms of changing the company and diversifying the business,” Hawkins said. said.

The company also envisages several acquisitions, which “will not necessarily be big deals,” Boehm said, but “allows us to continue to grow and expand our business.” increase.