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.