Monday, October 19, 2009

More Engines = Fewer F-35s?

Those of us just young enough to remember our childhood will recall the cartoon character Wimpy from Popeye who promised, “I’ll gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today.” Even in our formative years, this ruse was a clarion call to be wary of deals that seem to good to be true.

Surely the same can be said for the increasingly desperate attempts by alternative engine proponents to mask the true costs of this still nascent program, not just now, but in the so-called “out years” as well. But don’t take our word for it.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates, a consistently vocal critic of the alternative engine sent a letter on October 14 to House Defense Appropriations Chairman John Murtha stating, “This program is unnecessary and could disrupt the overall JSF program by diverting resources away from efforts needed for the continuation of the program. If the final bill presented to the President would seriously disrupt the JSF program, I would recommend that he veto the bill.” Strong words indeed from a man who has served two presidents of opposing parties in the role of defense secretary, especially given the vital needs driven by two ongoing wars in Southwest Asia and emerging threats elsewhere in the world.

According to Congressional Budget Office testimony to the House Budget Committee that same day, the Pentagon will need non-war spending to average six percent more than the amount sought for FY10 over the next 18 years to fulfill the current administration’s plans. Yet, real growth in military and civilian pay and benefits, combined with projected increases in operations and maintenance costs exacerbated by the current high operations tempo, will consume roughly two-thirds of the DOD budget. House Budget Chairman John Spratt said these fixed costs could “squeeze out” funding for R&D and procurement, both vital to military equipment recapitalization. Steve Daggett from the Congressional Research Service testified that acquisition accounts could decrease from 35 percent of the FY10 budget to just 24 percent in FY20.

Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell amplified Secretary Gates’ sentiment, also from October 14. “Let me take this opportunity to note that even if the Congress provides an appropriation in one year, and it doesn't potentially impact additional airframes, a one-year allocation doesn't deal with how we look at a potential second engine program,” he said. “We look at this over at least a five-year time span, and we need to have a better sense of the funding stream over the life of that program.”

Therefore, every dollar counts, arguably even more as the years pass. A proposed House-Senate compromise F136 funding line of $560 million in FY10 to pay for the extra engine simply cannot be expected in future budget cycles. The figures from the recent CBO testimony make that abundantly clear. Alternate engine proponents make much of the money already spent for this engine as a rationale for continuing it. Let’s be clear, to field the alternate engine, by the government’s own figures, will cost an additional $4-$5 billion. The fallacy of the sunk cost is one of the most common decision traps. Funding this engine this year, an engine our warfighters say they don’t need and don’t want, and that is years behind the primary engine that the President and Secretary of Defense say works and that they are pleased with, is truly throwing good money after bad.

Ironically, this unfunded mandate for an extra engine could come at the expense of total F-35 airframes, the worst possible outcome for our armed forces. Wasteful duplicity is bad enough. But to do so in a way that is unsustainable and may actually result in fewer F-35 aircraft, thereby driving up the unit cost of each with no increase in capability, is a lose-lose proposition that is simply irresponsible. Sadly, unlike our two-dimensional friend Wimpy, it’s no joke.

-- Eagleblogger

Friday, October 16, 2009

The Big Picture: Why One Less Engine Will Better Power Our Nation

 “At this point, where we're trying to count every dollar and where a dollar 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.”

      Those words, spoken by Defense Secretary Robert Gates on August 31, 2009 remind us all that ultimately, the debate about whether to fund an alternate engine for F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is about something far bigger.

      Sure, Pratt & Whitney’s F135 engine has achieved more than 12,000 test hours, and a rock-solid pedigree from the most successful fighter engine ever fielded, the Pratt & Whitney F119 which powers our nation’s F-22 fleet. But, the reason this debate genuinely matters transcends the admittedly arcane world of thrust and fuel burn.

      Simply put, building a second engine brazenly defies logic and fiscal prudence. Government and independent sources project fielding a second engine will waste at least $4-5 billion. That doesn’t account for the additional billions required for redundant production lines and maintenance support. There remains absolutely no justification for exacerbating a federal budget crisis caused by the most severe recession in nearly a century in order to fund an alternate engine that is years behind in development, duplicative and unwanted by the warfighter and two consecutive administrations representing different political parties.

      Some industry insiders might recall the so-called Great Engine War as precedent for sourcing a second F-35 propulsion system. Whether that earlier endeavor really generated the savings claimed by its supporters remains open to debate. Regardless, one can point to countless procedural and technological developments in the intervening quarter century. At least four of them – acquisition reform, industrial base evolution, improved contractor practices and exponential gains in flight safety – render useless a blunt, expensive and time-consuming alternative engine distraction.

      Finally, there is everything else that has little to do with the future of airborne propulsion. A burgeoning federal debt, the daunting task of health care reform, emerging threats abroad and two current wars are just some of the most severe domestic and international challenges that draw on this nation’s intellectual and financial capital, which are finite. Why waste precious billions in resources on an alternate engine when they could be better spent at home and on our warfighters deployed overseas?

      Therefore, we continue to stand by Secretary Gates, President Obama and countless other leaders who have called for a single engine to power a single aircraft type. It’s the right thing to do, not only for the U.S. taxpayer, but for our men and women in uniform. 

       -- Eagleblogger

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Hill: Gates warns he will ask Obama to veto Defense bill over chopper, JSF

The Hill newspaper reports today that Secretary of Defense Robert Gates wrote to top appropriators that he will recommend a veto of the 2010 defense spending bill if it includes funding for an alternate engine for the Joint Strike Fighter.

“The conference bill should not provide funding for weapons that are not working or are no longer needed,” Gates told the lawmakers.

The House included $485 million for the VH-71 presidential helicopter and $560 million for the Joint Strike Fighter alternate engine, which is built by General Electric and Rolls-Royce. That engine is in direct competition with the primary engine built by Pratt & Whitney.

Gates recently stressed that fully funding the alternate engine will cost billions more over several years and that the engine currently in development is behind the primary engine by about three years.

Gate's letter follows comments yesterday by Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell when asked about the issue:

But let me take this opportunity to note that even if the Congress provides an appropriation in one year, and it doesn't potentially impact additional airframes, a one-year allocation doesn't deal with how we look at this program, at a potential second engine program.

We look at this over at least a five-year time span, and we need to have a better sense of the funding stream over the life of that program. And so even if they are able to devise a way to fund it one year without it adversely impacting airframes in that particular year, we still need a better understanding of the long-term impact of a second engine on the budgeting process...
Previously, Bloomberg news reported that Undersecretary for Acquisition Ashton Carter noted that “The department has looked at and analyzed the potential benefits of a second engine of the Joint Strike Fighter for years...The crux of the analysis is that the additional upfront costs of a second engine are very clear and very real and the possible savings associated with a hypothesized competition in the future are much harder to estimate.”

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Taxpayers for Common Sense: "Don't Throw Good Money After Bad"

Ryan Alexander, President of public interest watchdog Taxpayers for Common Sense, writes in today's Register Citizen that Congress shouldn't "throw good money after bad" by funding an alternate engine.
"But a number of studies commissioned from various agencies on whether or not a second F-35 engine program would save money found that cost savings would be negligible at best. Potential savings were greatly reduced when the high price of maintaining two separate production lines, supply chains and management teams was factored in. Plus, any cost savings would take at least a decade to realize because the second engine is so far behind developmentally.

Some proponents claim other potential benefits to a second engine, including industrial base sustainment, contracting accountability and convenience for our international partners. In a perfect world, perhaps these issues would be more important than cost. But fighting two wars in a desolate economic environment does not afford us the luxury of spending billions to address them all. And the termination of one contract, no matter how large, won’t cripple our industrial base: A $636 billion defense budget should provide plenty of projects for defense contractors in the foreseeable future."
The full column is here...

Myrtle Beach Sun News: Quit wasting money on unwanted engine

Robert Burton writes in the Myrtle Beach Sun News

" At a time when our country is facing daunting challenges to reform health care, grow jobs in a recovering economy, and recapitalize an exhausted military, we must work now more than ever to ensure our government isn't wasting a single tax dollar.

A case in point is the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the military's next-generation fighter jet that one day will be deployed in South Carolina at Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort and Shaw Air Force Base in Sumter.

The Department of Defense authorized Pratt and Whitney to develop and field the new engine for the fighter. Congress jumped in and meddled in the matter, earmarking millions for a second engine that the Department of Defense doesn't want and didn't ask for. Yes, that's right, Congress, in its infinite wisdom, has been spending $500 million a year for the past four years on a jet engine that is far behind the other engine in development and likely won't ever be used in the Joint Strike Fighter. If the funding continues in the next few years, another $5.2 billion will be wasted."

The full column is here...

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

One F-35 Engine: Right Now and for All the Right Reasons

“An opportunity to truly reform the way we do business.”

That’s what Defense Secretary Robert Gates said back on April 6 when he unveiled his budget recommendations and suggested sweeping changes to a number of acquisition programs. And one month later, President Obama suggested the same strategy of saving money by eliminating unnecessary defense programs that do nothing to keep us safe. Since then, both President Obama and Secretary Gates on multiple occasions have repeated their belief that there is no business case for the alternate engine for the Joint Strike Fighter, and that continuing to fund it takes precious scarce resources away from initiatives that actually keep us safer.

Though Congress is still wrangling with some of the paths Gates charted in his briefing, the recommendations shook the foundations of many Department of Defense programs and signaled a sea change in how the department does business. The Secretary has made it clear that ending the alternate engine program for the F-35 fits hand-in-glove with his new vision.

Some of the other defense programs at risk of cancellation could lay some claim towards meeting some national strategic or defense goals not currently being met. However, the alternate engine is the only one that simply repeats an existing capability which has already been proven by the Pratt & Whitney F135, while the alternate engine lags years behind in development.

The bottom line remains absolutely clear: the F135 engine performs the task as assigned, continues to cost less and less based on Pratt & Whitney’s proven cost reduction on the F119 engine powering the F-22, supports thousands of U.S. jobs as opposed to sending many of them overseas, has more than 12,000 test hours under its belt, and is derived from the proven F119 engine that has flown more than 125,000 operational hours on the F-22.

By comparison, the alternate engine offers a brand new engine design still facing years of challenging testing ahead and billions in development costs still to be funded. The alternate engine is not based on a proven engine, so there is no significant development, test or experience on the design. Putting an unproven engine on a single-engine fighter in high rate production is extremely risky. An alternate engine also adds complexity by requiring duplicate maintenance lines and procedures. Not only does this duplication impact military readiness, it will cost taxpayers billion of dollars. An alternate engine won’t lower costs because the government pays the costs to develop both engines. Taxpayers will also pay the costs for two sets of parts, two production and maintenance lines, and additional personnel and training.

Single sourcing engines on major airframes has been the norm for the past two decades. There is no alternate engine for the F-22, the F/A-18 or the Black Hawk military helicopter. (The F/A-18 and Black Hawk engines are made by GE.) GE is the sole-source provider of the almost 10,000 T700 engines both fielded and on order, powering nearly 5,000 current and future Blackhawks and Apache helicopters.

Moreover, under the current economic pressure, the F-35 Joint Program Office estimates that the $4-5 billion wasted on an alternative engine could put 50-80 F-35 aircraft at risk unnecessarily, aircraft that the military needs to ensure our security and national defense.

It’s no wonder that the opposition to the alternate engine has been uniform for years across two administrations – the military services oppose it, the DoD opposes it, and two consecutive presidents of the United States have opposed it.

Give us your take on this – with a massive reorganization of defense programs underway and real strategic programs battling for every dollar, does it make sense to waste billions on an unneeded alternate engine?

-- Eagleblogger

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Middlesex Chamber of Commerce President says Engineering A Big Win For Pratt And State

Middlesex Chamber of Commerce President writes that securing sole-source position on F135 would mean a generation of well-paying jobs for CT.

It would also save billions of dollars for U.S. taxpayers.

President Barack Obama and Defense Secretary Robert Gates have made it clear they believe it is in the country's best interest for Pratt's F135 engine alone to power the F-35 — the aircraft that will soon become the fifth-generation fighter aircraft of choice not only for the United States, but for friendly countries around the world. The president and the secretary of defense have said if we build a second engine for the F-35, it will cost taxpayers an additional $4 billion to $6 billion. On the other side of the field is a joint venture of General Electric Co. and Rolls Royce, who want the government to continue funding an alternate engine.

So the president has made it clear he wants Pratt in the game. What we need now is for Team Connecticut to put recent losses behind us and focus on the next big contest. Let's get a win. This is a huge opportunity with a genuine chance of success. Securing Pratt's sole-source position on the F-35 would mean an entire generation of well-paying aerospace jobs at Pratt's Middletown plant.

Sen. Joe Lieberman certainly knows that and appears to be ready. During a recent visit to the Middlesex Chamber of Commerce, the senator said, "This is an enormously important contract. If we wind up being the sole manufacturer, it will result in an enormous amount of work for 25 years and maybe more." Sen. Lieberman added, "I'll do everything I can to assure the sole manufacturer of the engine for the JSF [F-35] will be at Pratt & Whitney right here in Middletown."

We are all aware that as a high-cost, high-wage state, we are in a battle to keep well-paying manufacturing jobs. However, against these odds, Connecticut remains the home of innovation and productivity. Even facing an often hostile business climate, UTC and Pratt continue to succeed — Pratt's manufacturing facility here in Middletown is a prime example. Few would believe that this much manufacturing would not only survive but thrive in this high-cost territory. But there it is, and there Pratt is, poised to again be on the leading edge of aerospace history.

We're very much in the game, Connecticut. We're on the verge of a game-winning score. Our pride and our reputation as a winner are at stake. We've got a great team. The clock is ticking.

The full column is here.