Monday, June 28, 2010

The Danger of Hubris

Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ frank comment on June 16 to the Senate Appropriations Committee that, “We think that the current engine GE is offering… probably does not meet the performance standards that are required, and the taxpayer would be required to pay for any enhancement that would bring it up to the performance standards that we require” appears to have so exacerbated the extra engine team that one can argue a delicate line has not just been crossed, but obliterated.

We’re talking about the occasionally tense, but absolutely vital relationship between the defense industry and the customers we serve. Although disagreements often surface through the natural course of procurement, recent actions by the F136 team to undermine President Obama, Secretary Gates and senior military leaders are arguably unprecedented in their audacity and severity.

A combative GE Vice Chairman John Rice brazenly contradicted Gates and the Pentagon’s assessment of the F136. From performance to cost, Rice painted a rose-tinted picture at complete variance to what their customer has stated time and time again. And while reality may sometimes be influenced by one’s point of view, what happened to the basic business principle of “The customer is always right?”

Most bizarrely, John Rice claimed that GE “has never been given an opportunity to compete” for the F-35 primary engine contract, conveniently forgetting that his engine was evaluated by Joint Strike Fighter airframe finalists Lockheed Martin and Boeing, both of whom ultimately chose Pratt & Whitney’s F135 for all Concept Demonstration Aircraft flights. So now Rice isn’t just asking for a mulligan to make up for a bad shot, but an entire new round of 18 holes?

According to Paul Bedard of U.S. News, Secretary Gates tops the list as President Obama’s best cabinet secretary and is widely recognized as one of the most effective Pentagon chiefs ever, now balancing the demands of two wars while simultaneously trying to reform how the DoD does business. Yet despite Gates’ unquestionable competence, selfless service and reasoned analysis under two presidents of opposing parties, GE still believes its interests, already bolstered by near-monopolistic positions in commercial and military aviation propulsion, are somehow of paramount importance and should therefore trump those of increasingly burdened taxpayers and warfighters.

Not surprisingly, GE’s unprecedented display of hubris was promptly characterized as an “open challenge” by The Hill’s Roxana Tiron and “an extraordinary move” by Megan Scully of Congress Daily. Meanwhile, recent high profile events have clearly demonstrated the risks associated with disrespecting the federal government’s authority over military affairs. Pratt & Whitney has learned from our historical missteps decades ago. We humbly recommend the F136 team do the same.


            – EagleBlogger

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Never Too Much of a Good Thing

In As You Like It, William Shakespeare penned the question, “Can one desire too much of a good thing?” More than 400 years later, we can answer emphatically no, you can never have too much, especially when it comes to good news. As the tempo of F-35 Joint Strike Fighter test flights increased in June, so has the frequency of major milestones achieved. In fact, we can count at least three during the last two weeks.

First, the U.S. Navy F-35C carrier variant made its inaugural flight earlier this month, taking off from Naval Air Station Fort Worth Joint Reserve Base. Powered by a production configuration F135, the F-35C logged about an hour of flight time. The F135 Conventional Takeoff and Landing (CTOL) / Carrier Variant (CV) engine received federal government Initial Service Release certification in February, indicating that the engine meets all requirements for safety, reliability, durability and performance, and is therefore cleared for use in the field.

Second, Pratt & Whitney recently celebrated the first installation of a production F135 into a production F-35 aircraft. This marks an important step as this will be the first F-35 aircraft powered by an F135 engine that is destined for our U.S. military.

Last but certainly not least, the F-35B short takeoff, vertical land (STOVL) aircraft achieved supersonic flight for the first time, climbing to 30,000 feet near Naval Air Station Patuxent River and then reaching Mach 1.07. Future tests will eventually expand its flight envelope to its Mach 1.6 maximum. However, it is already clear that the F-35B’s unique combination of short take-off/vertical landing capabilities and supersonic performance will provide the U.S. Marine Corps, United Kingdom and Italy with unprecedented performance and flexibility to operate from smaller ships or austere bases worldwide.

The sum of these milestones is further undeniable proof that the Pratt & Whitney F135 is performing exceptionally well; first in development testing and validation, followed by full production and sustainment. Yet proponents of the F136 extra engine still wage a misleading campaign with brazen disregard to our warfighters, Secretary of Defense, two Presidents and the taxpayers, to try to encourage Congress to continue earmarking funds for this unwanted, unneeded, unaffordable piece of hardware.

In testimony to the Senate Appropriations Committee on June 16, – Defense, Secretary Robert Gates fired back by stating, “We have reached a critical point in this debate where spending more money on a second engine for the JSF is unnecessary, wasteful and simply diverts precious modernization funds from other more pressing priorities. Accordingly, should the Congress add more funds to continue this unneeded program, I will continue to strongly recommend that the president veto such legislation.”

Clarity of language, backed by singular intent, is no less important now than in Shakespeare’s time, especially when the stakes are so high. And while the Bard of Avon might not have posed his question in the context of a fifth generation fighter propulsion system, we won’t shy away from celebrating success at every turn. Production of the ISR-certified F135 is more than our job, it’s an integral part of serving American and allied forces today and in the decades to come. We’ll leave the drama to others.

– EagleBlogger

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

An Inconvenient Truth: The Myth of F136-Style Competition

Supporters of the F136 extra engine have hijacked a convenient, but ultimately misleading notion to breathe life into a patient declared dead on arrival by two presidents, the Pentagon and both Joint Strike Fighter airframer finalists (Lockheed Martin and Boeing). “Competition” makes a great bumper sticker, but as we’ve explained in the past, the facts often point in a different direction.

To illustrate our point, let’s revisit the U.S. Government Accountability Office report entitled “Analysis of Costs for the Joint Strike Fighter Engine Program” (March 22, 2007). F136 supporters have elevated this document to near mythical status, yet ironically, their interpretation based on selective reading is probably the source of many of today’s “competition myths.”

For example, while the GAO admitted the potential for some cost savings based on future F136 funding, it then stated on pages 1-2, “These results are dependent on how the government decides to run the competition, the number of aircraft that are ultimately purchased, and the exact ratio of engines awarded to each contractor.” So, in order to achieve savings, beyond those already delivered by Pratt & Whitney and others still to come based solely on F135 maturity, the U.S. government would have to rig a future competition to create enough F136 sales to recoup their investment.

Continuation of the F136 would certainly help “spread the wealth” (at least at the very top of the supply chain), yet the GAO advisory groups note such a diversification strategy was “made independent of the services’ ability to fund the program–meaning overall affordability should be taken into consideration.” However, the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps have consistently stated they lack the inclination, budget and physical space to support two F-35 engines. International customers are unlikely to divide their orders either. Therefore, a forced 50/50 split buy “competition” would rest primarily on the shoulders of the U.S. Air Force, dramatically and disproportionately increasing its training and logistical costs, as well as further complicating overseas deployments based on past F-15 and F-16 experience. The Air Force Chief, General Norton Schwartz has repeatedly said this is something he does not want forced upon his service.

Contrast this sub-optimal scenario with the clear advantages of retaining just one F-35 propulsion supplier. The GAO notes on page 6 of the report, “In the event that Pratt & Whitney is made the sole-source engine provider, future configuration changes to the aircraft and common components could be optimized for the F135 engine, instead of potentially compromised design solutions or additional costs needed to support both F135 and F136.” So, while the F136 team continues to divert attention from their own late, underperforming engine languishing on a test bed, the GAO has already recognized that future funds will be best spent on continuous improvements to the F135 already in production.

As the fight continues on Capitol Hill and in the court of public opinion, we maintain that the benefits of JSF engine competition have already been derived in the form of the F135, itself an evolution of the trusted and proven, F-22 powering F119. Bottom line: the best engine has already won, it continues to power every F-35 in flight, and it will continue to cost less as quantities rise. Diverting vital and scarce public funds to the F136 in the name of competition threatens to betray taxpayers and warfighters alike – and that is perhaps the most inconvenient truth of all.

– EagleBlogger

Friday, June 4, 2010

CNN Contributor: GOP votes for spending boondoggle

CNN Contributor John Avlon has a piece out that's worth a read.

New York (CNN) -- In a time of voter anger at unsustainable government spending and Washington hypocrisy, here's a story that should get your blood up.

Last week, the House of Representatives considered eliminating a nearly half-billion dollar earmark that was snuck into a defense authorization bill. But members of both parties voted to keep the corporate pork in the bill -- despite a supposed moratorium on earmarks and despite that the Pentagon has repeatedly said it doesn't want the money.

Only in Washington would bureaucracy be force-fed a project it doesn't want or need.

But so far, we haven't seen this contempt for taxpayer dollars make its way to protest signs or talk radio driven talking points. That's because President Obama opposes the earmark and the Republican congressional leadership voted for it.

This doesn't fit neatly into the hyperpartisan narrative of screaming about socialism -- in which Republicans bewail overspending by Democrats -- but it's a perfect illustration of how deep the dysfunction is in Washington.

Full story is here.