Milestones may be commonplace in the aerospace and defense industry, but some are patently more significant than others. Last week saw one such illustrious milestone; but, enough with the suspense.
Pratt & Whitney has achieved Initial Service Release (ISR) for the Conventional Take Off and Landing/Carrier Variant (CTOL/CV) F135 engine powering the F-35 Lightning II. Simply put, ISR means that the F135 meets all safety, reliability and performance parameters for operational use by U.S. and allied warfighters. The F135 engine, the beneficiary of the heritage of the F119 engine powering the F-22, has achieved more than 13,000 test hours and roughly 200 flight hours, and has thus proven itself to the F-35 Joint Program Office and all who rely on its oversight and expertise.
The ISR designation marks the culmination of the CTOL/CV System Development and Demonstration program, during which Pratt & Whitney delivered 17 flight test engines, as well as the first production F135 engine. The final Short Take Off and Vertical Landing (STOVL) flight test engine will be delivered in a few short weeks, while an F-35B continues short landing testing leading up to its first vertical landing. Such steady progress may not generate lots of headlines, but we think quiet competence and consistent performance speaks for itself.
Also last week, the Department of Defense unambiguously reiterated their firm opposition to the F136 alternate engine development program, still in its nascent form yet already having cost the taxpayers billions of dollars.
“The secretary [Gates] 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,” said Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell on February 25. “The so-called great engine wars of the '80s, which…revisionist history would suggest…resulted in some great savings to the taxpayer. I think the actual analysis shows that, if there was a benefit, it was negligible.”
So the contrast is crystal clear. Morrell added, “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.”
President Obama and Secretary Gates have reaffirmed a veto threat if wasteful F136 funding continues. Congress has the opportunity to fulfill its most basic obligation: direct scarce taxpayer dollars where they will do the most good without needlessly endangering the entire budgetary process. And in light of Initial Service Release for the CTOL/CV F135 and continued progress towards the first vertical landing of the STOVL version – what better argument can be made for the performance of this engine and its readiness to serve?