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.