Wednesday, September 29, 2010

England: Gates is right about Defense Efficiency

Former Bush Administration Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordon England weighs in on the extra engine debate in today's Hill newspaper.

England points out that:

DoD studies concluded funding an extra engine will not actually save money, improve reliability or increase safety.

• Secretary Gates has stated forcefully and repeatedly that DoD does not want or need an extra engine and can’t afford it.

• $2.9 billion spent on the extra engine could be better spent on things that keep our troops and our nation safe, such as increasing procurement of F-35s to reduce the unit cost of the airplane itself. This would constitute real F-35 procurement savings.

• The extra engine is still in development with only 400 hours of testing compared to the 19,000 hours accumulated by the primary engine. Thus, there is still high development and financial risk with the second engine.

• Rolls Royce of the U.K. has significant work share content in the second engine.  Hence, funding the second engine will result in the exit of jobs from America.

The full column is here.


Monday, September 27, 2010

Good News from Washington, Even Better from Beyond

Despite recent developments from Capitol Hill that continuing resolutions will be needed before the end of Fiscal Year 2010 to fund the Pentagon and other government agencies in the short term, President Obama stated through the Office of Management and Budget on Tuesday, September 21 a call for the passage of S. 3454, the National Defense Authorization Act for FY 2011. The statement read in part, “The Administration appreciates that the [Senate Armed Services] Committee supports the President’s budget request, specifically by not authorizing funding…for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter extra engine…”

The unwavering support from President Obama and Defense Secretary Gates for Pratt & Whitney F135’s engine was reinforced this week by news it has surpassed 19,000 ground test hours and 560 flight test hours. Add those together and you’ll see the F135 is about to exceed 20,000 total test hours, an undeniably noteworthy milestone. Moreover, 394 flights as of September 20th, including a dozen flawless vertical landings, mean yet another landmark is about to be reached.

However, the real significance of all these numbers, though individually and collectively impressive, is they translate into tangible program advancements that benefit the warfighter and taxpayer alike. The short take-off vertical landing (STOVL) variant is in the final stages of testing prior to earning initial service release (ISR) certification from the U.S. government later this year. That milestone, combined with earlier ISR certification of the conventional take-off and landing/carrier variant (CTOL/CV) means that F135s powering all three versions of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter will have been fully tested and certified well before the F136 extra engine ever graduates from the test stand.

Yet for all the good news about F135 testing and certification, it’s worth remembering that this is now an engine well into the production phase. Nine production engines have been delivered and in recent days the first production F135 installed in a production F-35 was run to full power.

As the November congressional elections draw ever nearer, taxpayer calls for budgetary prudence and deficit reduction are increasing in intensity. Traditional budget hawk Rep. John Boehner (R-OH) stated earlier this year, “I don’t think any agency of the federal government should be exempt from rooting out wasteful spending or unnecessary spending. And I, frankly, I would agree with it at the Pentagon. There’s got to be wasteful spending there, unnecessary spending there. It all ought to be eliminated.” But his continuing parochial support for the needlessly duplicative F136 extra engine puts him at odds with his own political philosophy and a potential tidal wave of voter anger that might propel him to the speaker’s podium.

Following the fall elections, Congress will need to pick up where the continuing resolutions leave off. And whether the eventually solution for FY 2011 is settled via multiple bills in conference or through an omnibus package, lawmakers have the opportunity to serve the warfighters, heed the citizenry, and save money. Defunding the F136 would accomplish all three goals. Thanks to the continued support of F135 allies across the nation, the best news may still be to come.

– EagleBlogger

Monday, September 20, 2010

Sun, Surf and the Smell of Jet Fuel

While many Americans made the most of the warm late August weather by catching a few final rays of summer, Pratt & Whitney used the occasion to indelibly scorch the image and sound of the F135 engine at full throttle into the minds of a select few journalists invited to the company’s test facility in West Palm Beach. Rather than try to describe it myself, I’ll leave it to one of the professional scribes in attendance.

“Stand on the edge of the Everglades with the August sun beating down on your head, the summer humidity wrapping your skin and the thunderous beat of 43,000 pounds of power causing your chest and the very ground beneath you to thrum,” observed Colin Clark of DoD Buzz. “I wagged my jaw a couple of times so the seal on the hearing protection broke and my ears absorbed the awesome roar of the test engine firing about 100 feet away, hung high in the air. That’s what it’s like to experience testing of Pratt & Whitney’s F135 STOVL engine for the Joint Strike Fighter. It was my first military jet engine test and you can take it to the bank that I was impressed with the technology and with the brute power unleashed and then channeled.”

Government certification (known as initial service release) of the STOVL variant F135 engine is expected before the end of the year and will mark a final achievement in a development program that has already logged more than 19,000 hours and irrefutably proven the maturity of the F135 in the process. It will also serve as an emphatic milestone in a noteworthy year that has already included CTOL variant certification, delivery of the final test engines, 10 flawless vertical landings and counting, a smooth transition to production, supersonic flight of the STOVL variant F-35, affordability goals that are being met, and delivery of eight production engines with about a dozen more before the ball drops in Times Square to usher in 2011.

But the West Palm Beach event was more than just a celebration of what’s come before. As Guy Norris wrote in Aerospace Daily & Defense Report, “Pratt & Whitney is upping the ante in the ongoing F-35 Joint Strike Fighter engine war by revealing the F135 has achieved combat-rated thrust 20% higher than the specification” – an accomplishment demonstrated on both test and production engines.
This level exceeds even the wildest claims from GE and Rolls-Royce, whose F136 engine has logged only about 400 test hours, despite a protracted gestation process that dates back to lost propulsion down-select competitions to the F135 for both the Boeing X-32 and Lockheed Martin X-35 JSF finalists.

Norris added, “Nevertheless, [Pratt & Whitney Military Engines President Warren] Boley says even though Pratt has demonstrated measured thrust with the conventional-takeoff-and-landing (CTOL) engine variant well in excess of the F135’s advertised 43,000-lb.-thrust capability, the focus remains on providing a systems-level solution to the F-35 thrust requirement.” In other words, a core that can generate more thrust than the lift fan or nozzle can accommodate will remain an untapped resource for which the customer has not expressed a need.

And because of the F-35’s stealthy characteristics, extra weapons and stores are unlikely to be carried externally and the platform itself will not be prone to the growth seen on fourth generation, non-stealthy F-15s and F-16s. Translation: “F-35 thrust requirements are set at the beginning of the program and are unlikely to change significantly.”
As the lazy, hazy days of summer yield to autumn and intense policy battles on Capitol Hill, images of the F135 exceeding specs and achieving major milestones are anything but a mirage.

– EagleBlogger