Friday, October 22, 2010

F135 STOVL Testing: The Heat Is On

The relentless march of the Pratt & Whitney F135 short takeoff/vertical landing (STOVL) variant towards government certification in the form of an Initial Service Release (ISR) edged even closer to reality this month with the successful completion of a grueling high temperature margin test.

At Tennessee’s Arnold Engine Development Center, the F135 was intentionally run to generate turbine temperatures in excess of design conditions, while simultaneously powering the turbo-machinery at or above 100 percent. This test, which went far beyond normal operational flight, not only demonstrated the durability of the F135, but also showed it could exceed the thrust specification by a remarkable 34 percent.

The same F135 STOVL engine, designated FX642 and still in excellent condition, will now complete STOVL performance qualification testing at P&W’s West Palm Beach facility, in preparation for ISR certification. Once this occurs later this year, the STOVL F135 will join its sibling, the Conventional Takeoff and Landing (CTOL) / Carrier Variant (CV) engine (which earned ISR in February 2010), as the only government-certified F-35 powerplants available now and for the foreseeable future, especially given current challenges facing the F136 extra engine team.

Congressional incumbents and would-be members alike should pause from their relentless last-minute campaigning to recognize that cancellation of F136 funding is the perfect way to demonstrate that fiscal prudence is more than a slogan. Saying no to GE’s latest “moving target” request for yet another billion dollars to waste on the trouble-prone F136 is the right thing to do, especially when the true figure is probably closer to three times that amount. Here are five reasons.

First, killing the F136 would show voters that it really is possible to slow deficit spending in the face of a potentially crippling national debt that certainly wouldn’t be helped by an extra wasted $2.9 billion.

Second, it would validate the Contractor Furnished Equipment competition that saw both Joint Strike Fighter finalists (Lockheed Martin and Boeing) choose the F135 over the F136 with government approval.

Third, it would reward the fifth generation F135 for nearly 20,000 test hours, thanks in part to the engine’s proven F119 heritage on the F-22.

Fourth, the F135 has already made a smooth transition from testing, bolstering future American and allied defense capability with production engines already being installed and powered up in production F-35 airframes. 

Last and certainly not least, eliminating the F136 in favor of the F135 will ensure thousands of vital aerospace jobs remain here in the United States, rather than being exported to the United Kingdom.

Bottom line: this month’s successful high temperature margin test and other milestones demonstrate that only one F-35 propulsion system – Pratt & Whitney’s F135 – can really take the heat.

– EagleBlogger

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Single Source Engines: The Rule, Not the Exception

We at Pratt & Whitney would like to congratulate our colleagues at GE on their recent sole-source award of another 250+ engines to power an additional buy of F/A-18’s.  We’d also like to congratulate them on surpassing 15,000 sole source deliveries of T700 engines to power the Blackhawk and Apache helicopters.  Their sole source engine position on these platforms appears to work well for GE and their customers.

 The fact is, we all believe in competition when it makes sense for the customer and the taxpayer.  Sometimes it does, and sometimes it doesn’t.  But, GE’s success as a sole-source manufacturer of these engines is but one example that a “two of everything” competition through the life of a program isn’t always a good deal for taxpayers or in the best interest of our warfighters. The reason it’s rarely done quite simply is that it usually doesn’t make sense. 

 Take for example, the extra engine for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.  When you consider what portion of that program can actually be competed during the life of the program, it amounts to only $20 billion of the $100 billion program that also includes spares and lifecycle costs that aren’t competed.  Using the GAO’s very optimistic numbers, you may be able to save approximately 10-12 percent.  On $20 billion, that’s $2 - $2.4 billion.  Yet to get to competition will require a short term investment of $2.9 billion according to DoD.  Losing money to compete isn’t in anyone’s interest.  And, then there are the logistical complications and the doubling of risks that two engines present. 

 Using contemporary acquisition policies, there are a number of methods to hold contractors accountable and keep them performing effectively and efficiently.  Good examples of this include the highly successful F119 program for the F-22, the F117 for the C-17, or even the two previously cited GE examples.  You have to ask yourself if you already have a proven engine that by all measures is performing well and is years ahead of its potential competitor why you’d spend almost $3 billion for something that costs more than it saves, and the DoD says it doesn’t want or need, at a time when our nation is facing a fiscal crisis and has so many other pressing priorities for scarce budgetary dollars.

 Those in favor of the F136 extra engine argue that engine competition on the F-15 and F-16 programs have saved money and resulted in greater reliability. Yet the evidence for this rose-tinted analysis of the “Great Engine War” remains almost as dubious as revisiting a 1980s procurement model in the midst of a multi-war, economically challenged early 21st century.

 For 60 years, the DoD has selected defense contractors to provide products and services to the government and competition has played a role. In October 2001, DoD selected the Pratt & Whitney powered Lockheed Martin F-35 concept demonstration aircraft as the winner of the advanced tactical fighter competition, and the JSF program entered the System Development and Demonstration (SDD) phase. Since then, the F135 has remained several years ahead of the F136 in development. The F135 has demonstrated excellent performance in flight testing and continues to support flawless vertical landing operations. In addition, as the F135 has evolved from the F119, it will have more than 22 years of experience to rely on. GE, on the other hand, is relying on the power of lobbying and earmarks from Congress to get funding when there is absolutely no advantage to the taxpayer or the U.S. military in having a duplicative engine.

During the last two decades, the DoD has seen Pratt & Whitney design, develop and produce the safest, most reliable fighter engine in the world -- the F119, which is the foundation for the F135. So why should the government continue to spend billions of dollars on an insurance policy for an extra engine? The premiums are far too high a price for the taxpayers and our military men and women to pay when the F135 engine is performing exceptionally well. In the view of Secretary Gates, President Obama and their predecessors, based on the reliable performance of both the F119 and the F135, an extra engine is nothing more than a waste of taxpayer dollars in the interest of corporate welfare.

 The F135 is reliably powering flight test and is in production today, while the F136 continues struggle achieving only a fraction of the hours planned.

 Remember: It’s not competition if the customer doesn’t want your product, the taxpayer can’t afford it, it isn’t as proven as the F135 (which already won the competition to power the JSF), and the basis of any potential cost savings is a mandated, split buy of future engines. 


            – EagleBlogger