Wednesday, June 1, 2011

More "Four-ward" Progress

In today’s hyperactive 24/7 media landscape, good news rarely gets the same level of attention as bad news, especially when conflict can be added to the mix. Nevertheless, Pratt & Whitney’s F135 continues to go from strength to strength. Most recently, the company announced the mid-May award of a $1.13 billion Department of Defense contract for F135 production engines to power the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

The $1.13 billion award, which follows initial selection in July 2010, covers low-rate initial production of the fourth lot of F135 engines, plus spare parts, sustainment and delivery. LRIP 4 will comprise 18 conventional takeoff and landing (CTOL) and 19 short takeoff/vertical landing engines for the United States, United Kingdom and the Netherlands. And in an era when F-35 costs have attracted widespread attention, it is well worth noting that the LRIP 4 contract will provide a 15 percent savings on the CTOL/CV variant compared to LRIP 3.

These savings, along with others still to come, are possible because the F135 continues to mature as production rates increase. Yet, there are still some members of Congress on the House Armed Services Committee and elsewhere who support resurrecting the defunded and cancelled F136 extra engine through a deceptively clever self-funding scheme that (like most freebie offers) is actually too good to be true.

“This comes despite the fact that the Defense Department has been saying for five years that the replacement engine wasn't wanted or needed,” noted the Sheboygan Press in a May 18 editorial. “Although GE and Rolls-Royce will be spending their own money on the engine in the near future, we can't help but wonder how soon they will be back in front of the Armed Services panel asking for tax dollars to keep the alternative engine program alive.”

Writing in the Wall Street Journal on May 20, Pratt & Whitney President David Hess debunked a number of misunderstandings and misrepresentations about the F135, which has powered all 900+ F-35 flights, including 100 vertical landings. Such strong performance, combined with staunch opposition from Republican and Democratic presidential administrations, completely obviates the need to waste an additional $3 billion in vital taxpayer funds for a second engine that is years behind the F135 and would necessitate the doubling of training, logistics and maintenance costs without adding any additional capability.

First Hess notes, “Rep. [Buck] McKeon refers to a $3.5 billion cost overrun but does not explain that most of these costs are due to government-directed changes to the original requirements and schedule. Much of the remaining costs are associated with the unique challenges of the short takeoff, vertical landing F-35 variant. Having an extra engine would not have made any difference but would simply have added cost.”

Moreover, Hess adds, “Rep. McKeon incorrectly states that the cost of the Pratt & Whitney F135 engine powering the F-35 ‘has risen by almost 500% in the past three years.’ The cost of our engine has actually decreased by more than 22% over that period.”

Those facts, on top of an additional 15 percent savings to come on LRIP 4 engines, are merely sensational, not sensationalist. Yet we’d still shout, “Stop the presses.”

– EagleBlogger

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Return of the Zombie Earmark?

Like a bad B-grade horror movie monster, the General Electric/Rolls-Royce F136 extra engine is threatening to rise from its grave. No matter that Congress eliminated all FY2011 funding just weeks ago, marking the culmination of years of stoic determination expressed by consecutive Republican and Democratic presidents, as well as their respective secretaries of defense.

Instead, the F136’s dwindling but vocal advocates are now trying to hold the entire F-35 program hostage by arm-twisting the House Armed Services Committee. Still smarting from the extra engine’s defunding and subsequent termination by the Department of Defense, its backers have conceived a seemingly innocuous plan to “self-fund” the remaining development. Yet there is no free lunch for the American taxpayer here, since any military engine testing will require access to government-owned property and facilities, not to mention ongoing government oversight. And all that costs money.

Moreover, they’ve devised a "scorched earth" tactic that would withhold performance improvement funds for the proven Pratt & Whitney F135 unless their developmental engine is brought back to life. Never mind the fact that the F135 meets all current and anticipated thrust requirements, they say, let alone the prospect of further duplication and senseless waste at a time of unprecedented economic uncertainty and more pressing defense priorities.

Even before these latest parliamentary gimmicks were fully exposed, the Boston Globe remarked in a May 1 editorial, "It’s the height of corporate entitlement for a defense contractor to keep trying to sell the Pentagon a fighter engine that the Pentagon manifestly doesn’t want."

As news about the HASC maneuver surfaced, Paul Bedard of U.S. News reported in a May 4 article that fiscal conservatives might face “an embarrassing second vote on the funding for the engine." Bedard went on to quote a conservative House adviser who said, "It’s unbelievable they could be that thick-headed. With the deficit at $1.7 trillion this year, my GOP has to get serious."

GE had told the government it needed $450 million annually in FY 2011 and 2012 in order to compete in 2015. Now that GE is faced with spending their own cash, they claim they’ll do it for $100 million and compete in 2016. So, what was the other $350 million a year for and who will fund the additional $3 billion really needed to get the F136 to competition?

Such intransigence stands in stark contrast not only to continued strong performance by the F135 in more than 800 F-35 test flights, including roughly 90 flawless vertical landings for the STOVL F-35B, but also in deliveries. All 20 engines from low rate initial production (LRIP) lots 1 and 2 have now been delivered, along with the first LRIP 3 engine in early May. F135 engines in LRIP 3 meet established affordability targets and include engine modifications and improvements based on findings from the F-35 flight test program. Moreover, that engine’s close relative, the Pratt & Whitney JSF119, is literally now part of aviation history, following its recent installation at the Smithsonian Institution at the National Air and Space Museum Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center.

Here’s hoping majorities in both houses of Congress charged with the twin burdens of austere fiscal responsibility and judicious defense spending will continue to beat back the extra engine. We’ve said it before, but feel compelled to say it again: no means no. Even an addlebrained zombie should understand that much.

– EagleBlogger

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Progress Versus Promises

Avid readers of this blog and know that the Pratt & Whitney F135 is a direct descendent of the F119 that powers the U.S. Air Force’s F-22 Raptor. Now, the F119 has successfully reached its first hot section full-life capability of 4,325 total accumulated cycles during a recent test at Langley Air Force Base in Virginia. This achievement was made possible through an accelerated engine maturity program and the resulting overhaul will provide additional insight into the long-term performance of this engine, as well as the F135.

This accelerated program, called “Compass Vector,” is a Pratt & Whitney and U.S. Air Force partnership to fly certain engines twice the normal rate under various environmental conditions. The resulting data highlights new sustainment opportunities that will maximize readiness for the world’s most advanced operational fighter jet.

Meanwhile, production numbers for the F119 and F135 continue to climb at 360 and 21, respectively. The F135’s scorecard now stands at more than 828 flights, 1,200 flight hours and 86 flawless vertical landings.

Fortunately, the Department of Defense has now terminated the F136 extra engine that never flew, wasn’t wanted by two consecutive presidential administrations, and wouldn’t be used by the U.S. Navy, Marine Corps and other initial F-35 customers. In stark contrast to attempts by others to override the express wishes of the customer and taxpayer, Pratt & Whitney’s latest ad pays tribute to those House members (later joined by the Senate), who rejected earmark-laden, pork barrel politics in favor of fiscal responsibility when it’s needed most.

Implausibly, GE claimed until the very end that their still-developmental F136 engine could somehow outperform the Pratt & Whitney F135 that has powered every F-35 flight as above. But don’t take our word for it; check out the latest reasoned opinion delivered by defense industry sage Dr. Loren Thompson of the Lexington Institute.

We commend Congress and Secretary Robert Gates for their courageous decisions to defund and then terminate the F136. Whether it’s on the flight line or Capitol Hill, actions continue to speak louder than words.

– EagleBlogger

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Truth: An Unfortunate Casualty of the GE Ad War?

Defense industry sage Dr. Loren Thompson of the Lexington Institute recently followed up a article critical of the F136 extra engine with another entry on his own site, this time chastising GE for their increasingly desperate advertising tactics.

Thompson applies his keen eye to GE’s misleading portrayal in a recent print ad about a single Government Accountability Office report that purports to suggest “total savings of about 21 percent in overall life.” In fact, he states, “The 21 percent savings are unsubstantiated claims about an earlier program that GAO acknowledges it has not analyzed in depth. The actual savings GAO thinks possible from the current program are in the 10-14 percent range -- but you wouldn't know that from reading the ad because GE has cropped the picture so you can't read the full text on that page of the report.”

No other authoritative source in the government is projecting such savings from a so-called competition and with good reason. Moreover, a $62 billion GAO figure is magically rounded up to $100 billion by GE, further obfuscating the fact that the actual amount up for grabs in a dual-source scenario is much smaller. Why? Because as Loren Thompson notes, “Most of the money in the lower figure would fall outside any competition, because it consists of spare parts and support that only one company can supply.”

Saving roughly 10 percent of $20 billion would only net $2 billion and that just isn’t worth another $3 billion to finally complete the F136’s protracted development. This gamble looks even worse when you consider it would really just create a forced split buy scenario, primarily burdening the U.S. Air Force since the Navy and Marine Corps have repeatedly said they only have room on their ships for one engine, the Pratt & Whitney F135 that’s already government certified and in production.

Thompson concludes that the Pentagon “already have an engine that works fine, and that's all they need -- just like on every other plane the military services have developed for the last quarter century. But at least GE is honest about one thing: if Congress wants to keep developing its unneeded engine in the near term, it's going to cost taxpayers money that won't be available for more pressing needs.”

No wonder the White House and Pentagon have rightly opposed the F136 under both Republican and Democratic administrations. Their unwavering leadership, recently augmented by a new generation of fiscally conservative legislators, culminated in separate decisions by the House and Senate this year to defund the program. The Department of Defense directed the F136 team on March 24 to halt work, stating “The stop work order ended the expenditure of $1 million per day on an extra engine that the DoD has assessed as unneeded and wasteful.” Now, one month later, the program has been officially terminated. The truth is that powerful.

– EagleBlogger

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Beware the Zombie

As veteran analyst Dr. Loren Thompson of the Lexington Institute wrote in a late February blog on, the F136 extra engine has never made much sense, in large measure because the defense industry simply doesn’t work the same way as the consumer-driven marketplace.

Thompson notes, “Pentagon policymakers have argued every year since 2007 that GE’s ‘alternate engine’ is a waste of money that would duplicate efforts already made to develop the Pratt & Whitney propulsion system without providing corresponding benefits.”

Yet the F136 has lived on even longer than that. Its protracted gestation dates back to losing campaigns on the part of General Electric to have its engine chosen by Joint Strike Fighter finalists Lockheed Martin and Boeing, both of whom independently chose Pratt & Whitney’s F135 design instead. The F135 has gone on to power every F-35 flight to date, been certified by the government, and made a smooth transition to production.

Thompson argues the F136 has been buffeted by the turbulence of overriding the Pentagon’s oft-expressed wishes and best interests. “As the sole customer for the two engines, the government must cover all the costs of designing a second engine, developing and testing it, equipping and manning a second production line, funding a second supplier network, and sustaining a parallel maintenance and support infrastructure across the lifetime of the program.” In short, there’s a reason why no American military aircraft developed in the last three decades has featured multiple engines, nor for that matter do you see choices in avionics, landing gear and other major on-board systems.

Moreover, the cost of sustaining the F136 and bringing it to the market could equate to $8 billion in total, according to the federally funded Institute for Defense Analyses. The chances of such a massive investment ever being repaid is primary reason why the Pentagon and White House under both Democratic and Republican control have repeated sought to terminate the F136.

And that daunting figure presumes no further F136 teething troubles. By contrast, Pratt & Whitney’s F135 is derived from the proven F119 aboard all F-22 Raptors. Thompson adds, “Since the GE engine was begun later and not based on any prior design, its team is not as far down the learning curve and thus is likely to produce a less reliable engine.”

Lastly, Thompson debunks the notion that two engine suppliers will create more jobs, because the total number of engines will not change. “As a study by the consulting firm Whitney, Bradley & Brown pointed out, that means twice the number of vendors (with smaller amounts of work), twice the tooling, and twice the oversight…If there was a net gain in jobs from splitting the work among two teams, that presumably would be due to the inefficiency of the arrangement — inefficiency that raised rather than lowered the government’s costs.”

Two hundred and thirty-three cost-conscious members of the House of Representatives, especially dozens of Republican freshmen, took a big step in the right direction recently by voting to eliminate further funds for the wasteful F136.

– EagleBlogger