Monday, May 10, 2010

Just the Facts

       As the Pratt & Whitney F135 team this month celebrates two important milestones – delivery of the last F135 test engine, as well as the fourth and final engine in LRIP Lot 1 – the F136 team appears more concerned about trying to relive the past, or rather their perception of what might have occurred.

        We are, of course, referring to the so-called “Great Engine War” – an event that supposedly generated up to 20% cost savings for the taxpayer thanks to F-15 and F-16 engine competition. And while this handy bit of revisionism makes for a catchy slogan or two as part of the latest campaign to save the F136, it doesn’t necessary reflect reality. But don’t take our word for it.

        In 1989, Donald Pilling of the highly credible and fiercely independent Brookings Institution released a study entitled Competition in Defense Procurement.  As part of that work the author references USAF analysis that was presented to the House Committee on Armed Services and entered into the Congressional Record of the 98th Congress in 1984. The Air Force analysis is presented below, labeled Table 2-2.

Table 2-2.  Air Force Analysis of Alternative Procurements for Fighter Engines

Billions of fiscal 1983 dollars unless otherwise specified








Savings relative to a split award

Contract award

Cost to





Six annual purchases








All to Pratt & Whitney




All to General Electric










One purchase followed by five annual purchases








All to Pratt & Whitney




All to General Electric




Source: Defense Department Authorization and Oversight, Hearings on H.R. 5167 before the Committee on Armed Services,

98 Cong. 2 sess. (GPO, 1984), pt. 2, p. 255



Cited from: Competition in Defense Procurement, Donald L. Pilling, The Brookings Institution, 1989, pg 28.

Pilling’s analysis showed that split buys in two different scenarios would actually cost 5-6% or roughly $1 billion more than choosing a sole source acquisition strategy with Pratt & Whitney or General Electric. Sadly, the Air Force saw little option at the time but to continue along the path of competition for other arcane reasons, but in Pilling’s words, “Reducing program cost was not a factor…” Yet it’s worth noting that since then no military aircraft program has recreated such a contrived construct. Either way you look at it, full credit goes to the Defense Department, which has learned the true lessons of the past and vigorously opposes an extra engine for the F-35. As Deputy Secretary of Defense William Lynn wrote on February 23rd to House Armed Services Committee Chairman Ike Skelton, “While much has been made of this example (The “Great Engine War”), the facts tell a more nuanced and inconclusive story.”

Despite all the rhetoric, the F-35 engine debate really needs to focus on the customer. This debate is about delivering the best and most affordable solution to DoD so that the true beneficiaries are American and allied warfighters, plus the taxpayers who support them. To that end, the Pentagon’s position, reinforced by Presidents Bush and Obama, begs the question: why does the F136 team think they know more than the Defense Department? If they’re looking for a slogan, we humbly suggest, “The customer is always right.”

        – Eagleblogger


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