Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Fallacy of Trying to Have Cake and Eat it Too

You would think that an emphatic, “Thanks, but no thanks” from two consecutive presidents representing both main political parties and the studiously principled secretary of defense they share would deter business-as-usual Capitol Hill posturing and runaway spending. Yet, like a “middle-of dinner telemarketer,” the team pushing the F136 extra engine for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and their Congressional allies just can’t take no for an answer, even in a year when the American public has made it abundantly clear that wasteful and unnecessary projects and programs are not worth causing greater damage to the American economy while also handicapping our warfighters in their time of greatest need.

            As Defense Secretary Gates said during a May 20th press conference, “The Bush administration opposed this engine. The Obama administration opposes it. We have recommended for several years now against funding this engine, considering it a waste of money. And to argue that we should add another $3 billion in what we regard as waste to protect the billion and a half (dollars) that we believe already has been wasted, frankly, I don't track the logic.”

            But what about competition, the extra engine team pleads? After all, “monopoly is not a game.” The competition to power the F-35 took place years ago, and Joint Strike Fighter prime contractor finalists Lockheed Martin and Boeing each chose Pratt & Whitney’s F135 over the F136 to power their concept demonstrators.

Ironically, the same team that lost the competition to power the F-35, has upped the rhetoric on “monopoly” despite the monopolistic position they enjoy on the 14,000 engines powering the entire Blackhawk and Apache helicopter fleets, the more than 4,000 engine monopoly they have on the entire F/A-18 fighter jet fleet, and even the ubiquitous Boeing 737 airliner (just to name a few). Apparently, living in a glass house really doesn’t deter the casting of stones.

            Along the way, the extra engine team has pedaled multiple unsolicited so-called “fixed price” proposals claiming notional savings as a result. But, ever the wary consumer, the Department of Defense, led by Secretary Gates, isn’t buying. “The proposal does provide a fixed price, but not for the engine we need,” Gates said. “The proposed engine is based on the design they currently have on the test stand, which we are deeply concerned may not meet the performance needs of the Joint Strike Fighter. Any cost to take the design to required JSF performance levels would presumably be paid by taxpayers.”

            And let’s remember that the F136 is years behind the F135. Test hours stand at merely 200 for the F136 compared to more than 17,500 for the F135. The F135 has powered every JSF to date, including a flawless vertical landing, has received government certification, and has made the transition from development to production, having delivered the first four F135 engines that will power the first F-35 aircraft for the U.S. military.

            Finally, the extra engine team’s vision of competition is actually built on the perverse notion of a “guaranteed” split buy. To quote Secretary Gates one more time from May 20, “As I've said before, only in Washington does a proposal where everybody wins get considered a competition, where everybody is guaranteed a piece of the action at the end.”

            The problem isn’t competition. First, it is the F136 team’s stubborn denial of multiple decisions by prime contractors years ago, two presidential administrations since then, and even the Senate as recently as 2009. Second, it’s their engine, which is years behind the proven F135 and might not meet DoD requirements. Lastly, it is the prospect of a rigged split buy that’s more consistent with socialist central planning than our meritocratic system where warfighters only get the best solutions the market can engineer, produce and support.

            Rather than swallow the bitter pill summed up by these dispassionate facts, the F136 team enjoys their own monopolies, while at the same time ratcheting up the political posturing and scare tactics to save the unwanted, underperforming and untenable extra engine. Guess they think they can have their “competition” cake and eat it too, while the American taxpayers and warfighters continue to foot the bill.


– EagleBlogger

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