“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.