Monday, August 31, 2009

Gates feels strongly - there is no need for the alternate engine

After touring the F-35 JSF manufacturing plant in Fort Worth, Texas, Defense Secretary Gates made a clear case, again today, about why the alternate engine should not be funded.

During Q and A with reporters, Secretary Gates was asked about the Administration’s veto threat if funds for the alternate engine are included in the defense budget and he responded :

"We have looked at the business case a number of times in terms of an alternative engine to the F135. The general conclusion is that it would cost several billion dollars in addition, that it would just by the nature of things be three or four or more years behind the F135 engine, and there's no reason to believe that it would not encounter the same kinds of development challenges that other new engines have encountered along the way.

And so at this point we're trying to count every dollar and where a dollar from one program, added to one program, takes away from another program that we think is more important, we feel strongly about the fact that there is not a need for a second engine and the President's advisers, the Hill has been informed that the President's advisers would recommend a veto if that's in the bill. The final decision obviously is up to the President."

Gates later added that, "We talked about trade-offs in other programs with respect to the alternate engine a minute ago. Well, every dollar additional to the budget that we have to put into the F-35 is a dollar taken from something else that the troops may need. So it's as important to watch the costs here as it is on everything else."

Steve Trimble of The Dew Line also has a synopsis of the media briefing.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Alternate Engine’s Jobs Argument Falls Flat

One of the common arguments made by proponents of the alternate engine for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is that it is good for the aerospace and defense industrial base. At first glance it seems to make sense – two engines means more jobs and businesses up and down the supply chain, right?

But what seems to be an obvious truth is actually a confusing misperception.

First, let’s talk about the importance of the aerospace industrial base overall. It’s hard to overstate how vital it is to the U.S. economy, especially in these trying times. As other industries have hemorrhaged jobs over the last nine months, aerospace and defense has held steady, with a total direct employment right around 650,000, just a small dip from the middle of last year. Estimates put the total number of jobs the industry is responsible for at 2 million, spread out among 30,000 companies in all 50 states. It’s the nation’s leading exporter, and totaled $97 billion last year. (All statistics from the Aerospace Industries Association.)

Clearly, this economic cornerstone is more important now than ever.

So what does this mean to the alternate engine discussion? The claim that the second engine will bolster the industrial base ignores the fact that the same number of engines will be bought – it’s just a question of who will build them. A second engine does not mean twice the engines.

Splitting the engine buy will also have direct negative impacts on each company involved in the program, from the smallest supplier to the systems integrators involved. Most companies in the supply chain would see a smaller piece of the overall pie than they would under a single engine provider. It trickles down – less work per supplier means reduced economies of scale and fewer opportunities for the government to save money due to size of the JSF program. A report by the Lexington Institute that delved into the alternate engine issue said that “split procurement and sustainment is intrinsically less efficient …” barring extraordinary circumstances. The report concluded that dividing the F-35 engine buy will make the program and companies involved less efficient, and pointed out that this is not the usual goal associated with strengthening the industrial base.

Curiously, some recent remarks by members of Congress questioned the importance of protecting the defense industrial base, saying that contract decisions should not take jobs and other factors into account. Luckily, that opinion is squarely in the minority. In fact, AIA just released a report pressing for industrial base impact to be a factor in the Quadrennial Defense Review, which is due to be released this fall.

There’s one more significant misperception about the alternate engine when it comes to the issue of supporting the U.S. industrial base. As much as 20 percent of the work on the alternate engine is going to occur in the United Kingdom. Talk about not helping the U.S. defense industrial base.

What do you think? Would splitting the engine buy hurt or help the aerospace industrial base? Weigh in with your views in the comment section.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

As Washington Debates, F135 Racks Up Successes

Those following the F-35 Lightning II alternate engine discussion in Washington D.C. know the last couple of weeks have been dynamic. But behind the scenes the F135 engine – the Joint Strike Fighter’s primary propulsion system – has achieved some significant milestones which underscore how far along Pratt & Whitney is in the development and test of the F135 engine.

The Pratt & Whitney F135 engine recently surpassed the 12,000 test hour mark as part of the system development and demonstration phase of the contract.

DoD has also awarded the company a low-rate initial production contract totaling $684 million that covers production, sustainment, spare parts and engineering support for the third lot of engines. The contract includes 10 conventional take-off and landing (CTOL) engines and 11 short take-off/vertical landing (STOVL) versions.

These important steps are leading up to the delivery of the first seven production engines later this year.

Additionally, Pratt & Whitney has completed a propulsion production and sustainment study for the Netherlands, one of eight international partners on the Joint Strike Fighter program.

So what does all this mean? As Congress wrangles with the question of continuing to fund an unneeded engine that the DoD – and President Obama himself – have publicly said they don’t want, the F135 continues to rack up many program successes.

The F-135 has logged more than 113 flights and more than 134 flight test hours. This engine is well along in overall development and demonstrates the maturity and reliability the military customers needs in order to get their critical missions done.

The F135 engine is built on the same core as the F119 engine, the only operational fifth generation fighter engine that powers the F-22 Raptor fighter.

The fact that the F135 engine development program is moving along at a steady clip and logging milestone after milestone shines a harsh light on the alternate engine program. Shoehorning an extra $439 million into the DoD’s fiscal 2010 budget for a program that is immature and unnecessary is simply a bad idea, especially in today’s economic climate.

What do you think Congress’ responsibility is in light of this situation? Is it prudent to continue funding an unneeded engine for almost a half a billion dollars each year when the primary engine is about to start deliveries? We welcome your comments below.

-- Eagleblogger

Monday, August 3, 2009

NYT: After the F22

The NYT editorializes this morning that the F22 shouldn't be the only weapons system to be cut from the defense budget:

The situation so far is better in the Senate, where financing for the helicopters and the alternate engine were eliminated in a first draft defense bill. But there is every expectation that there will be a fierce fight over these and other programs in the process of reconciling competing versions with the House.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates has made a compelling case for ending programs that significantly exceed their budgets or use limited tax dollars to buy more capability than the nation needs. Given the changed nature of warfare, the United States must invest in systems with “maximum versatility” and can no longer afford weapons that are “clearly out of control, performing poorly and excess to the military’s real requirements,” he said in a speech in Chicago.

Full editorial here.