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


  1. Pratt & Whitney: Crusader for the American public's wallet

    If pw is so confident in its engine then why not let the competition continue? The real reason is that the f135 will never win against the f136. Pw knows this and is trying to knee cap ge before its too late.

    Stop hiding behind the guise of "ooooh, we love the customer and are trying to save money". Its getting very old and why not come out with a statement like:

    "We feel that congress shouldn't fund the f136 because we are interested in maximizing our profits. We feel that funding of the f136 will result in reduced orders for the f135 based upon performance."

    [not a ge employee]

  2. Brian@ -The competition already occured, the F135 was determined (by the customer!) to be the better engine for the JSF. GE LOST that competition. GE was previously granted the sole-source supplier for the engines powering the F/A-18, the F-19 Stealth Fighter, and several other aircraft in UNCOMPETED selections that P&W didn't even have the oppurtunity to participate in. Now GE wants a "do-over" on a competition they previously lost. Why should we the taxpayers pay for this unwanted, proven to be inferior, unecessary 2nd engine?
    ....and yes, I AM a P&W employee!

  3. I agree with you that engine competitions are an exception and not a rule. Many factors come into play like quantity among other things.

    The pentagon has already acknowledged that there has not been a government-sponsored competition to power Lockheeds F-35.

    Several engines were studied in the initial phases of what became the JSF program. When it came to building concept demonstrators, the teams were *directed* to use the F119. This led to Boeing and Lockheed prop'ing JSF designs powered with F119 derivatives and the pentagon planned for competitive engine procur from the outset and funded work on the F136 in parallel. Pentagon decided in 2006 that it couldn't afford a second engine and congress added money each year but only 80%. That seems fair to ge right? Developing an engine at 80% funding while f135 is 2b over budget? Ohwell..that last bit was a moot point. Moving on...

    If the pentagon conducted a .gov-sponsored comp that led to selection of the F135, then said it would develop the 136, aaaand then later decided to drop the second engine it would be justified in saying "we liked to have dual engines, but cant afford it and we had a competition and the f135 won." This cannot be said because there was no formal competition.

    The dual competing engine was a strategy by the pentagon for over 10 years and congress concurred and provided funding. The previous rational of using competition has not changed and therefore should be continued. Interesting to note would be that if your claims were true, why didn't we cancel the 136 3 billion and 8 years ago instead of now when there is only 1.6b or less to finish?

    You don't want to seem to realize the scope of this project. This will replace the entire fighter fleet. In the past if one fighter went down we had a couple others to replace it. This is not the case now. NOW more than ever it makes PRUDENT sense to compete the engine design since that makes or breaks the entire plane. It made some sense with the F16 and thats why it was done then also.

    On your claim of the 136 being inferior, I think your clamoring to shut it down argues otherwise. If you honestly believed the 135 would win out over the 136 in competition, pw would sit back and let it ride. pw is seeing the threat and taking proactive lobbying steps to get the 136 shut down. Please note that this last little bit is my opinion.