In an era dominated by shallow, partisan politics designed to perpetuate the status quo through the next election and beyond, we applaud the unadorned selflessness and courage demonstrated by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates at his August 9th press briefing on acquisition reform.
Shunning the well-worn path of least resistance, Secretary Gates boldly identified a plan to reign in spending on his terms, rather than kick the proverbial can from the Pentagon across the Potomac and up to Capitol Hill. Generating $100 billion in overhead savings in five years won’t come easily, especially in the midst of relatively stagnant job market that drives politicians to be even more parochial than usual. However, the opportunity to restructure the right way, while also empowering the services to redirect savings towards higher priority warfighter needs, proved far too compelling to ignore.
“It is important that we not repeat the mistakes of the past, where tough economic times or the winding down of a military campaign leads to steep and unwise reductions in defense,” Gates said. And while newly stated measures garnered the majority of press coverage, it’s important to remember that more established saving priorities, including cancellation of the F136 extra engine, remain vital to long-term success.
“To see these initiatives in context, I think you need to step back and see them as the next move in a process that has been going on for two years,” Gates stated. “It began at the National Defense University with my speech in September of 2008; the far-reaching decisions on programs for fiscal year '10 that were made in April of 2009; the decisions on the alternate engine and C-17s earlier this year; and the Eisenhower Library speech in May.”
Lest anyone miss the F136 reference or doubt the Obama administration’s continued opposition to spending an additional $2.9 billion on an engine the military doesn’t need nor want, Gates added, “Any bill that takes the alternate engine…to the president, I am confident will be vetoed.”
The myriad reasons for canceling the F136 persist. It lost early competitions to power the Lockheed Martin X-35 and Boeing X-32 Joint Strike Fighter finalists. Years later, it remains very immature having accumulated a few hundred system design and demonstration (SDD) hours, while Pratt & Whitney’s F135, benefitting from its F119 predecessor that continues to power the F-22, has accumulated nearly 15,000 SDD hours. Today, the F136 remains in a test cell undergoing incremental development, while the F135 continues to prove itself in rigorous F-35 flight tests and has made a smooth transition to production. Further expenditure on the F136 is unlikely to ever be recouped, compared to the economies of scale that will only help lower F135 unit costs, benefitting all domestic and international F-35 customers and their taxpayers.
Secretary Gates has challenged Americans to “be mindful of the difficult economic and fiscal situation facing our nation” while also conducting two wars and countering numerous terrorist threats and rising powers. Tough times call for smart solutions, yet canceling the F136 remains a relative no-brainer.