Friday, February 26, 2010

Pentagon spokesman on the F136: "This money can clearly be better spent buying capabilities that our warfighters do need."

Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell spoke to reporters about the alternate engine at yesterday's briefing. Calling the F136 a "colossal waste of money", Morrell reiterated that an alternate engine will cost taxpayers an additional $3 billion and is a "luxury we cannot afford".

Highlights are below and the full transcript is here.

  • "The secretary has made it clear to you all, and he's made it clear to the Congress time and time again, that the pursuit of a second engine, in his estimation, is a colossal waste of money, and that it will not result in any competition between companies."
  • "The so-called great engine wars of the '80s, which, you know, despite how -- you know, revisionist history would suggest that it resulted in some great savings to the taxpayer. I think the actual analysis shows that, if there was a benefit, it was negligible."
  • "There is -- to complete that engine would cost us another $2.9 billion. So we're looking at $4.2 billion being spent on an engine that we believe is not necessary and that likely will have the same problems in development that the Pratt & Whitney engine has already had, and that this money can clearly be better spent buying capabilities that our warfighters do need. This is a luxury we cannot afford."
  • "And it is such a redline with the secretary that he announced to you up front when he rolled out this budget that it is no longer a conditional veto recommendation on his part, regardless of whether it impacts the overall program or not."
  • "It's $4 billion that we can't afford to spend, on things that we don't need or are duplicative. We need that money to support our warfighters in the fights they are in now. That's what our focus is on."

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Caveat emptor: The cost no taxpayer should bear

You might think that consensus in Washington is rarer than snow at this month’s Winter Olympics, yet there is at least one topic that has consistently elicited a surprising level of unity among objective policymakers and analysts: the need to avoid billions of dollars of wasteful taxpayer spending on the alternative F136 engine for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program.

Two successive administrations representing both major parties and two of three congressionally mandated studies in 2007 have all reached the same conclusion: a so-called competition between the proven F135 engine now soaring in flight as it powers the F-35 Lightning II flight test program and the redundant F136 alternate engine will cost far more than it might ever save, even under the rosiest of scenarios. (The third study concluded that savings would be possible, but only under highly favorable conditions that do not exist today.)

On top of the $3 billion invested since 1996 to create a developmental F136 engine that has suffered four failures in fewer than 100 hours of testing, the alternate engine team says it needs “less than $1 billion” more, while Pratt & Whitney agrees with the Department of Defense estimates that it will cost an additional $3 billion over the next five years. The DoD can explain their models, but suffice it to say that ours are based on the experience of developing and now delivering our second fifth generation fighter engine, including the proven F119 that powers every F-22.

What the F136 manufacturer does not wish to highlight, is that this additional $1-3B (depending on whose math you believe) will still not result in an engine that is ready for competition against the F135. The additional billions will only fund the F136 through development. But the escalating costs of the F136 won’t end with development. Production and sustainment, another area for which Pratt & Whitney can comfortably speak from a position of experience, will cost the F136 team – and by extension every U.S. taxpayer – hundreds of millions of dollars more.

Meanwhile, Pratt & Whitney continues to bring the F135 price down, not because of a perceived “competitive threat” from a notional F136, but because program maturation and rigorous supply chain management will deliver lower prices with increasing quantities of fielded engines, just like it did on the F119. In fact, our most recent proposal to the government for F135 engines offers them a double digit percentage drop in price, as well as reduced risk of cost overruns.

In addition to misrepresenting the costs remaining to fund the alternate engine to the point of being "competitive", advocates for an alternate engine would also have Congress and others believe that if engine orders were split between two suppliers, the cost of these highly engineered power plants, built with the most sophisticated materials to the tightest tolerances, would decrease even faster than the already proven economies of scale derived from a single, successful design, as was proven on the F119. This misleading notion is also tethered to what the alternate engine proponents refers to as a $100 billion market for the F-35 engine. This is a gross exaggeration and includes spares and sustainment costs that simply can’t be competed.

Again, all of this could be considered conjecture were it not for the reasoned analysis of two presidential administrations, the Department of Defense and numerous other independent studies. And whether the additional cost of the F136 is “just” another billion or more like $2.5 billion, increasingly scarce taxpayer funds will bypass countless worthy causes for an unwanted, duplicative engine with absolutely no military requirement.

The snow may have returned to Vancouver by then, but the Games will be long gone.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Another notable first

As much of the aerospace community gathers in Singapore for the biennial air show there, Pratt & Whitney marked the occasion by announcing the delivery of the first F135 production engine for the F-35. This major milestone, following close on the heels of the first in flight engagement of the STOVL propulsion system, unequivocally demonstrates the continued maturation of the F135. A strong heritage from the F119 engine powering the F-22-powering, and more than 13,000 test hours have enabled this first delivery of the world’s most advanced fifth generation fighter engine, one that will serve U.S. and allied forces for decades to come.

Meanwhile closer to home, much of the news centers on President Obama’s proposed Fiscal Year 2011 budget. The language urging the termination of the F136 alternative engine program is crystal clear, and represents the fifth consecutive attempt under administrations of both major parties to cancel the F136.

So what’s changed since FY ’07 when the request to cancel alternate engine funding was first made? In addition to the undisputed progress of the F135, as well as our nation’s clear and present economic crisis, the White House, in their budget proposal released last week said that the alternative engine “is no longer needed to prepare against the potential failure of the main JSF engine program…because development of the main engine is progressing well.” Moreover, “financial benefits, such as savings from competition, have been assessed to be small, if they exist at all, because of the high cost of developing, producing, and maintaining a second engine.”

Answering questions during a February 1 press conference, Defense Secretary Gates pledged to “strongly recommend that the president veto any legislation that sustains the unnecessary continuation” of the F136, along with an unrelated program. Simply put, he said, “The level of cost is such now that we have to take a final stand.”

Despite the challenges of developing a new fighter aircraft, Secretary Gates remains bullish on the F-35, stating “it is on track to become the backbone of U.S. air superiority for the next generation.” A single, proven F135 propulsion system is now playing its full part: benefitting the taxpayers with a proven pedigree, rigorous testing, decreasing cost, and now a smooth transition to production. Who says good news is hard to find?

-- Eagleblogger

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Highlights from Secretary Gates and Admiral Mullen's briefing at the Pentagon

Yesterday Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen briefed reporters on the DoD's FY2011 budget proposal, which terminated the alternate engine program for the Joint Strike Fighter.

A few highlights are below (emphasis added), and the full transcript of the briefing can be found here.

  • SEC. GATES: These budget submissions and strategy reviews are suffused with two major themes. The first is continued reform -- fundamentally changing the way this department does business, the priorities we set, the programs we fund, the weapons we buy and how we buy them...To achieve these objectives, the department must continue to reform the way it does business, from developing and buying major weapons programs to managing our workforce. Building on the reforms in the FY '10 budget, when a number of excess or poorly performing programs were canceled, the QDR proposed additional steps reflected in the FY '11 budget submission.
  • SEC. GATES: They include terminating the...alternate engine for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, as whatever benefits might accrue are more than offset by excess cost, complexity and associated risks. I'm fully aware of the political pressure to continue building the C-17 and to proceed with an alternate engine for the F-35, so let me be clear. I will strongly recommend that the president veto any legislation that sustains the unnecessary continuation of these two programs.
  • SEC. GATES: As the QDR says, the department and the nation can no longer afford the quixotic pursuit of high-tech perfection that incurs unacceptable cost and risk, nor can the department afford to chase requirements that shift or continue to increase throughout a program's lifecycle.
  • SEC. GATES: In closing, as I said last year, we must remember that every defense dollar spent on a program excess to real-world military needs is a dollar not available to take care of our people, reset the force, win the wars we are in, and improve capabilities in areas where we are underinvested and potentially vulnerable. That is a risk the president and I are not prepared to take. Making these tough decisions and tradeoffs is especially important in the constrained budget environment we face today and almost certainly will face in the future.
  • Question: Mr. Secretary, on the alternate engine, you sounded like you've come up with a very hard recommendation for a veto. Last year, there seemed to be a caveat in that you did not want the program to be disrupted. If it were, then you would recommend the veto. Is there a difference this year or will you again have that caveat on disruption on the alternate engine?
SEC. GATES: I was very concerned about the program last year. And that was the reason that the veto threat was focused on disruption of the program. We think that the level of costs is such now that -- and the fact that this is unnecessary -- that it's important to take a final stand. Thank you all very much.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Administration Budget Proposal Cancels Alternate Engine Program

Today the White House released its budget and has again proposed termination of the alternate engine program.

In his remarks this morning, the President said, "Even though the Department of Defense is exempt from the budget freeze, it's not exempt from budget common sense, it's not exempt from looking for savings.”

The budget proposal's "Terminations, Reductions, and Savings" section (available here) states:

The Administration proposes to terminate the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) Alternate Engine Program (AEP) because it is no longer needed to prepare against the potential failure of the main JSF engine program. The Department of Defense (DOD) proposed canceling the JSF AEP in the 2007 Budget, and has not requested funding for it since, because development of the main engine is progressing well. In addition, analysis indicated that the savings from competition would not offset the high upfront costs of the AEP. However, the Congress has continued to fund the program.


The JSF AEP was started because DOD wanted to reduce technical risk in the development of a new engine for the JSF. However, since the main engine program for the JSF is progressing well, a second engine program is unnecessary and there is no longer any need to support two separate contractors. Moreover, financial benefits, such as savings from competition, have been assessed to be small, if they exist at all, because of the high cost of developing, producing, and maintaining a second engine. The reasons for canceling the AEP in 2007 remain valid today. Studies by both the Government Accountability Office and the Congressional Budget Office question the affordability of the current defense program, particularly the high cost of modernizing tactical aviation. Canceling the AEP will result in near-term savings of over a billion dollars.