Monday, June 29, 2009

Alternate Engine Does Not Improve Safety, Reliability or Reduce Risk of Fleet Groundings

Aircraft engines have never been safer and more reliable than they are today.  Engines of all stripes have made great strides when it comes to this all-important measure.

In the debate over the alternate engine for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, however, there’s an edge when it comes to reliability and safety.  And the Pratt & Whitney F135 holds that edge.

An engine’s performance is tied to pedigree. Fighter engines that mature as part of a twin-engine platform end up safer and more reliable than those that are developed solely for a single-engine aircraft.

We know that the F135 engine was borne of the F119 engine that is currently powering the F-22 Raptor twin-engine fighter.  In fact, the F135 uses the same core as the F119, which itself has benefited from more than 22 million hours of F100 operational flight time world wide, leading directly to better reliability.
The Pratt & Whitney F100 family of engines powering the F-16 has a much lower U.S. Air Force mishap rate than the competing F110 engines on the same platform (the second engine of the Great Engine War; see previous blog entry). The F100 matured in the twin-engine F-15, while the F110 was developed on just the single-engine F-16. The cumulative mishap rate for the F100 is at least 15 percent less than its F110 competitor.  In fact the latest generation F100 engine has a mishap rate of zero.

The reasons for this gap in reliability are two-fold.  First, an engine matured in a twin engine application can experience a more robust operating environment based on the different missions accomplished by the different aircraft.  Twin engine aircraft can perform more challenging maneuvers with less risk of aircraft loss because of the second engine.  Second, the maturity time increases at a greater rate for twin-engine jets because hours and learning are logged at twice the rate.

An engine brought in late in the game for a single-engine aircraft still must go through the same trial-and-error process, but without that crucial backup of a second engine.

An alternate engine actually reduces the rate of maturity of the fleet-wide propulsion system because two different engines reduce the accumulated time for maturing either one.

Furthermore, the idea that an alternate engine would prevent fleet-wide groundings ignores the fact that such groundings due to propulsion issues are virtually unheard of these days.

Advances in safety risk management and mitigation practices have all-but-eliminated the need to ground entire classes of aircraft when issues arise. If an engine issue were to arise, specific bases would likely call for a local safety stand-down to take a corrective action while letting the fleet to continue to fly safely.

Even if fleet-wide grounding were a legitimate concern, an unneeded second engine would not be an effective safeguard.  The fact that the alternative engine doubles the number of vendors, parts and procedures makes it mathematically more likely that some portion of the fleet might be grounded due to an adverse incident. This is an issue that was highlighted by Senator Tom Harkin back in 2007. Senator Harkin, a Navy pilot in the 1960s, said: "We had problems all the time . . . and there was a series of supply problems and mix-up problems with parts and everything” (Inside the Air Force, 12/14/07). So the alternate engine actually makes the F-35 less safe and reliable.

With all of this, we can now add safety and reliability to the long list of reasons that the alternate engine for the F-35 is a bad idea.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Obama issues first veto threat on defense spending

Obama issues first veto threat and asks Congress to make the tough choices on defense spending

ABC's Jake Tapper reports on the White House veto threat on the alternate engine.

Congress and the White House appear headed for a collision. The White House this week threatened to veto a defense bill if it includes military spending that Defense Secretary Gates outlined as wasteful and unnecessary. The House passed the $680 billion bill with those provisions Thursday, by a vote of 389-22.
Specifically, President Obama opposes the inclusion of $369 million in the bill for more F-22 fighter jets and $603 million for development and procurement of the alternative engine program for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Program.
If the final bill presented to the president contains either of those provision, a White House statement released Wednesday threatened, "the president's senior advisors would recommend a veto."

Roll Call's Keith Koffler also writes about the veto threat and says it is framed as a message on spending.
(may need a subscription)

President Barack Obama’s threatened veto of the House Defense authorization bill is both a signal of his desire to revamp defense priorities and a message that he wants to force Congress to make difficult decisions on spending, according to White House officials. The warning is the first formal veto threat of Obama’s presidency.
“The president believes that for too long, tough choices have been put off in Washington,” White House spokesman Tommy Vietor said. “As a result, we’ve pursued costly weapons systems that were not suited to the threats we face or have not proven to be effective or efficient — wasting hundreds of billions of dollars.”

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

White House Issues Veto Threat Over Alternate Engine Funding

On May 7, President Obama released his budget saying that “we're going to save money by eliminating unnecessary defense programs that do nothing to keep us safe - but rather prevent us from spending money on what does keep us safe. One example is a $465 million program to build an alternate engine for the Joint Strike Fighter. The Defense Department is already pleased with the engine it has. The engine it has works.”

Today, the White House reaffirmed the President’s position, issuing a Statement of Administration Policy on the House Defense Authorization bill that strongly objects to current efforts in Congress to again provide funding for the alternate engine.

Referring to the House Armed Services Committee’s actions last week, the statement says:
The Administration strongly objects to the addition of $603 million for development and procurement of the alternative engine program, and the requirement for the Department to fund the alternative engine program in future budget requests to the President.
As we blogged about here earlier, funding for the alternate engine means buying fewer airplanes at a higher cost, something the Administration notes in its message as well:
These changes will delay the fielding of the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) capability and capacity, adversely impacting the Department's overall strike fighter inventory. In addition, the Administration objects to provisions of the bill that mandate an alternative engine program for the JSF.
The Administration further notes that:
The current engine is performing well with more than 11,000 test hours. Expenditures on a second engine are unnecessary and impede the progress of the overall JSF program. Alleged risks of a fleet-wide grounding due to a single engine are exaggerated. The Air Force currently has several fleets that operate on a single-engine source.
The Administration statement concludes that if the House legislation disrupts the F-35 program, the President’s advisers will recommend a veto.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

General Mike Loh: Funding alternative engines for F-35 Joint Strike Fighter a waste of federal dollars

General Mike Loh writes in today's Fort Worth Star Telegram:

President Barack Obama singled out the alternate engine for the F-35 as an example of wasteful spending last month, but advocates are pushing their supporters to continue the funding. As a former commander of the Air Force’s aircraft and engine acquisition center and its largest operational command, I know that the president and secretary of defense got it right. The military services will incur significantly higher costs, and get fewer aircraft, if the alternate engine for the F-35 program continues.

Read the full column here.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Alternate Engine Widens Fighter Gap

Anyone paying attention to the recent Senate Armed Services Air Land Subcommittee (see previous blog post “Highlights from Yesterday’s Air Land Subcommittee Hearing) heard numerous mentions of the U.S. military “fighter gap.” It is a hot topic because many elected officials are realizing what military leaders have been warning for years – many of the aging fighters will have to be retired before their new replacements are ready to go.

And more people are drawing the conclusion that the alternate engine program for the F-35 Lightning II is making a bad situation worse.

Let’s take a look at the fighter gap situation. It spans U.S. military services, negatively affecting the Air Force, Navy and Marines and Air National Guard:

  • Air Force – According to news reports, the Air Force faces a shortage of more than 800 fighter aircraft by 2020.
  • Navy – At the recent hearing, Navy and Marine officials said they will see a gap of 243 fighters by 2017 at the latest, and probably earlier. That represents 20 percent of the fleet. Aging F/A-18 Hornets are already reaching 8,000 flight hours, the milestone after which they must go in for a meticulous inspection to determine if they can continue operating.
  • Air National Guard – In a recent opinion article, Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords detailed how the guard’s increase in operations in recent years has resulted in aircraft burning out faster than anticipated. In just eight years, she writes, 80 percent of all National Guard aircraft will become unusable. Giffords is member of the House Armed Services Committee.
(It’s worth noting that leaders of the Air Force, Navy and Marines – services affected by the fighter gap – all went on record during the recent hearing that they agreed with the President's decision to cancel the alternate engine.)

As you would imagine, there are a number of factors contributing to the fighter gap. They include budgeting considerations and decisions on the numbers of fifth-generation fighters that the government will ultimately order.

Lawmakers are faced with the decision of whether to make expensive upgrades to existing fighters to coax a few more years of service out of them, buy new models of those aircraft or speed up the rate of getting the fifth-generation fighters deployed.

But it’s clear there’s one thing they can do immediately to make the situation better – stop funding the extraneous engine for the F-35.

The unnecessary alternate engine is costing billions of dollars that could otherwise be applied directly to replacing the aging fighters. At a June 9 hearing before the Senate Air Land subcommittee, Air Force General Mark Shackelford testified that the second engine program will result in funding 53 fewer F-35s over the next five years.

That’s worth repeating – the unneeded alternate engine will cost us more than four dozen of some of the most advanced fighter aircraft in the world. Defense acquisition is often a complicated business. But it’s not hard to see that this situation just doesn’t make sense.
-- Eagleblogger

Monday, June 15, 2009

Alternate engine costs are steep: Funding means fewer airplanes available to reach operational capability

Recent actions in Congress are confirming the real costs of funding an alternate engine for the Joint Strike Fighter, and the costs are steep.

Last week at a hearing before the Senate Air Land subcommittee, General Mark Shackelford testified that funding the alternate engine would come at the cost of two to four aircraft in the coming year and 53 aircraft over the next five years. General Shackelford explained that many of those planes are destined for operational testing and training centers and delay in providing them will mean a delay in getting the Joint Strike Fighter to its initial operating capability:

“So as we start to decrement the number of aircraft early on, we start to push out, just from an availability of aircraft to conduct the test work necessary, developmental -- well, operational test, not developmental test but operational test, that will then have an effect upon the initial operational capability time line at the integrated training center. It'll reduce the pilot through-put so the number of pilots we have, and potentially the number of maintainers who are trained on the aircraft through the same process.” General Mark Shackelford, Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force, Senate Air Land Subcommittee, June 9, 2009

A June 11 story from Forecast International entitled Pratt & Whitney F135 Engine is Well Along in Development reports that “Hover pit testing on the F135 STOVL variant began in March 2009, having received approval to begin powered lift operations the previous month from the F-35 JPO. That same month the engine surpassed 100 hours of flight-testing, and was touted as a key step in the engine's transition from development to production.” The story also noted that the “STOVL engine had exceeded thrust expectations in tests and provided greater vertical lifting power than required by the F-35B.” (Pratt & Whitney F135 Engine is Well Along in Development, Forecast International, June 11, 2009) contributor and blogger Eric Palmer notes in a June 14 post on the House Air Land subcommittee’s decision to provide $603 million in funding for an alternate engine while cutting two aircraft from production Friday that the F136 engine will be funded by taking money away from F-35 production quantity. This in-turn will raise the unit price of the F-35 aircraft. The program has to stay to plan. No matter how good the aircraft becomes, quantity is the big helper to keep price down. While nothing has been signed yet, for the programs sake, they need to get those 2 aircraft funded.”

The bottom line here is that funding an alternate engine is costing American taxpayers billions of dollars while costing the military badly needed airplanes to make up for a growing fighter gap. All of this is taking place at a time when the current F135 engine is capably powering the Joint Strike Fighter through its testing regime and performing exceptionally well.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Highlights from Yesterday’s Air Land Subcommittee Hearing

Below are a few highlights from the June 9, 2009 hearing of the Senate Armed Services Air Land Subcommittee in which the alternate engine for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter was discussed.

Much of the debate thus far has reflected concern that funding the alternate engine will mean that the U.S. will not be able to build as many F-35s despite a growing fighter gap.

At a May 21 Senate Armed Services Committee hearing Air Force Chief of Staff Norton Schwartz testified that “We have talked today about aging of the fleet. The bottom line is we have got to get the F-35 production rate sufficiently high to help us deal with that looming issue. And diverting resources from aircraft production to dual source the engine, to me makes that more difficult, not less.”

Note that General Trautman (Marines), Admiral Architzel (Navy) and General Shackelford (Air Force) are all echoing President Obama’s and Defense Secretary Gates position that the alternate engine for the F-35 should not be funded and, if it is funded, it will have negative consequences.

In addition, Senator Lieberman concludes that we cannot afford the alternate engine.

Senator Joe Lieberman: You know, so this has real consequences. This is not -- in a normal case, of course you'd like to have two engines, two engine programs. But you can't have it all. So if you go over the two engines, we're going to be 53 planes short of what we'd otherwise be within that five-year period.

General George Trautman: First, the Navy supports the Department of Defense position that -- in general while we do support competition, in this case of the alternative engine we view that the cost of continuing with two development programs on that is not offset by the savings that we would see in the future of having those two engines and also having to support both engine types. So the Navy remains supportive of that position of just the 135.

General George Trautman: Loss of any airplanes between now and 2012 would put that IOC at considerable risk. So the early loss of airplanes, each and every one, causes us to go back to the drawing board and rescript our plan to see if we can make the objective that the commandant and I have in mind. Now, we haven't purchased a TAC airplane in over 11 years.

General George Trautman: And our legacy fleets of Hornets, the AV-8s and the A-6Bs, have been ridden very hard in combat. And so we are passionate about keeping the joint strike fighter on track, sir.

Admiral David Architzel: I'll start, and then I'll give it over to General Shackelford. First, the Navy supports the Department of Defense position that -- in general while we do support competition, in this case of the alternative engine we view that the cost of continuing with two development programs on that is not offset by the savings that we would see in the future of having those two engines and also having to support both engine types. So the Navy remains supportive of that position of just the 135.

General Mike Shackelford: Yes, sir. Similar to Admiral Architzel's comments about favoring competition, the Air Force is one that favors competition in these kind of cases, too. In this particular case, the analysis that OSD did to look at the costs associated with the second engine yielded a bit of a differing result from what the GAO reported, which basically says the costs associated with development of the second engine would be something that we would consider unaffordable in the current timeframe while we would be doing the development, and that the benefit down the road in terms of comparative costs would be more of a wash than the more optimistic version of what the GAO report said. So when we look at that balancing the risk of having one engine versus the costs associated with paying for the second engine, be it one in terms of costs within the program, which would be taken out of production aircraft, a negative effect in terms of unit costs and whatnot, or even having to source those dollars someplace else within the Air Force in this time, we don't consider that to be an affordable solution.

Senator Joe Lieberman: I thank you. I thank you all. My own personal conclusion from all this -- and I thank you for the case you've made -- is that we can't afford the second engine, and it will compromise the joint strike fighter program. So I hope we stick with the president's recommendation on that one.

Real lessons of The Great Engine War

Supporters of an additional engine for the F-35 like to turn to events in the 1980s that became known as the “Great Engine War” to bolster their argument. It refers to an extraordinary circumstance where the U.S. Air Force re-opened competition to supply engines for F-15 and F-16 fighter aircraft after more than 1,000 were already built.

Those pushing Congress to add a second engine for the F-35 Lightning II today – despite strong public opposition from the Air Force, DoD and President Obama – say the Great Engine War proves their point. But does it?

The whole reason for the Great Engine War was a strained relationship between the Air Force & Pratt and Whitney at that time. In fact, Pratt & Whitney officials will be the first to say that that relationship was not handled in the best possible fashion, and that they learned many lessons from the experience, the most important lesson being the critical importance of listening to and working to meet your customer’s needs. As the F100 matured in the F-15, it experienced some performance challenges. The USAF was pushing the state of the art in jet engine technology on a very accelerated schedule and decided the military shouldn’t rely on just one engine at the time. It was the response – or lack thereof – to these issues that set the wheels in motion for the Air Force to pay the bill for developing an alternate engine. The “Great Engine War” was a result of developing an alternate engine, not the purpose.

As for improving the reliability and safety of engines, those improvements have resulted not from the Great Engine War, but from the Component Improvement Program, which was established in about 1973, and is still in existence today. This program not only introduced improved designs, but introduced new tools, materials, processes and methodologies that continued to improve the safety and reliability of all subsequent products.

Finally, regarding cost savings, while it is uncertain whether the development of a second engine for the F-35 will bring total program cost savings, the duplicate costs of developing a second engine and establishing a second logistics program for that engine are undeniable, huge, and unwanted by those who run the program.

Shortly after the end of the Great Engine War (1991), Pratt & Whitney competed for and won the contract to be the sole engine provider for the twin-engine F-22 aircraft. The government found no reason to dual source the engine for the F-22 and Pratt & Whitney has delivered unmatched performance and reliability with the F119. Since the contract was awarded in 1991, and for the last eighteen years since, the F119 has set the new standard for safety and reliability and Pratt & Whitney is applying that proven technology to the F135 with very good results.

The arguments that some fabricate, after the fact, to justify a government funded price competition for the JSF engine are based on circumstances that do not exist in the JSF program today.

The DoD is pleased with the F135’s progress and performance to this point, even after engine testing pointed to design improvements that could be implemented, making the engine even safer.

Perhaps the most jarring difference between the Great Engine War and today’s situation is also the most important to note. Back then, the Air Force was dissatisfied with the performance on the contract and asked Congress to address it.

Today, DoD is satisfied with the performance of the engine and the contract, and officials have actually specifically asked Congress not to add an alternate engine.

Lawmakers should see the real lesson the Great Engine War teaches – listen to the services when considering their needs.

-- Eagleblogger

Monday, June 1, 2009

AV Week story on production cuts fuels debate

Just to follow up on a story we highlighted here on Friday afternoon: Graham Warwick of Aviation Week reported that JSF program chief General David Heinz was concerned that development of a second engine from within the existing F-35 budget would cut production by dozens of aircraft and push up program costs.

Blogger Eric Palmer writes today in a post titled “Time to cut what gets in the way” that “killing the F-136 now is better than standing around later wondering why the program went bad.”

The story has also gotten the attention of AV Week’s Bill Sweetman, who says of General Heinz’s comments: “That's a remarkable statement, because it forecasts nothing less than disaster if the F136 costs are not pulled out of the program.”

We’ll be following this very closely so come back often---or subscribe to our feed.