In today’s hyperactive 24/7 media landscape, good news rarely gets the same level of attention as bad news, especially when conflict can be added to the mix. Nevertheless, Pratt & Whitney’s F135 continues to go from strength to strength. Most recently, the company announced the mid-May award of a $1.13 billion Department of Defense contract for F135 production engines to power the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.
The $1.13 billion award, which follows initial selection in July 2010, covers low-rate initial production of the fourth lot of F135 engines, plus spare parts, sustainment and delivery. LRIP 4 will comprise 18 conventional takeoff and landing (CTOL) and 19 short takeoff/vertical landing engines for the United States, United Kingdom and the Netherlands. And in an era when F-35 costs have attracted widespread attention, it is well worth noting that the LRIP 4 contract will provide a 15 percent savings on the CTOL/CV variant compared to LRIP 3.
These savings, along with others still to come, are possible because the F135 continues to mature as production rates increase. Yet, there are still some members of Congress on the House Armed Services Committee and elsewhere who support resurrecting the defunded and cancelled F136 extra engine through a deceptively clever self-funding scheme that (like most freebie offers) is actually too good to be true.
“This comes despite the fact that the Defense Department has been saying for five years that the replacement engine wasn't wanted or needed,” noted the Sheboygan Press in a May 18 editorial. “Although GE and Rolls-Royce will be spending their own money on the engine in the near future, we can't help but wonder how soon they will be back in front of the Armed Services panel asking for tax dollars to keep the alternative engine program alive.”
Writing in the Wall Street Journal on May 20, Pratt & Whitney President David Hess debunked a number of misunderstandings and misrepresentations about the F135, which has powered all 900+ F-35 flights, including 100 vertical landings. Such strong performance, combined with staunch opposition from Republican and Democratic presidential administrations, completely obviates the need to waste an additional $3 billion in vital taxpayer funds for a second engine that is years behind the F135 and would necessitate the doubling of training, logistics and maintenance costs without adding any additional capability.
First Hess notes, “Rep. [Buck] McKeon refers to a $3.5 billion cost overrun but does not explain that most of these costs are due to government-directed changes to the original requirements and schedule. Much of the remaining costs are associated with the unique challenges of the short takeoff, vertical landing F-35 variant. Having an extra engine would not have made any difference but would simply have added cost.”
Moreover, Hess adds, “Rep. McKeon incorrectly states that the cost of the Pratt & Whitney F135 engine powering the F-35 ‘has risen by almost 500% in the past three years.’ The cost of our engine has actually decreased by more than 22% over that period.”
Those facts, on top of an additional 15 percent savings to come on LRIP 4 engines, are merely sensational, not sensationalist. Yet we’d still shout, “Stop the presses.”