Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The True Costs of the Alternate Engine

Those following the F-35 engine debate have heard it repeated over and over – the second engine will save money in the program over the long term.

To start with, this argument asks people to wrap their heads around the concept that spending $5-6B on a program that the services, DoD and President don’t want will somehow save money.

But there’s another pesky issue regarding this point – it’s not true. The second engine is five years behind the proven F135, which has more than 10,000 hours of ground and flight testing and is powering all prototype aircraft. It also has the benefit of 100,000 hours of operational experience on its predecessor, the F119 which powers the fifth generation F-22 Raptor.

Defense procurement 101 tells you that development costs money, especially when you are playing catch-up.

DoD officials have made this case repeatedly in public to try to stave off efforts to force the additional engine upon them. Lt. Gen. Mark Shackelford, the military deputy to the Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, testified last month that the remaining cost to make an additional engine production-ready is $4.3 billion over the next six years.

An analysis ordered by former Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics John Young before he left office found the total cost to be even more than that. The Future Years Defense Plan concluded the cost over that same time period will be $5.2 billion. And the price tag only gets bigger after 2015.

An additional engine program also means additional program management offices, additional component improvement programs and two different depot support infrastructures. Engine programs almost always go through mid-life upgrades and improvements. Again, the additional engine would force DoD to undertake a second one of these programs doubling the investment throughout the life of the engine.

To put it simply, a second engine program does not reduce costs. Redundant sourcing increases costs. Period.

So, where does Congress come up with the cash needed to fund this unnecessary program in today’s lean budget years? That’s the most unfortunate part of this entire issue.

To fund the alternate engine program, the DoD will potentially cut the number of aircraft they can purchase or pull funding from other equipment that is needed to protect our country.

As counterintuitive as it sounds that you would reduce the number of high-performance fighters that will play a huge role in our national security, that’s exactly what has already happened.

In fiscal 2009, two F-35s fell to the budget ax in order to fund the extra engine program. Since the budget included funding for 16 aircraft, that represents a reduction of almost 13 percent.

It gets worse. This year Congress is looking at cutting six F-35s out of 30 planned. That’s 20 percent of the total for the year.

It’s hard to imagine that cutting aircraft to fund an extraneous engine that the services don’t want is good economics, or good national defense.

Until next time,

-- Eagleblogger

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