Cracks Appear in F136 Support

Cracks Appear in F136 Support

UPDATED: Pratt Says Tight Budget Pushing Lawmakers to Question F136

The late Rep. Jack Murtha believed strongly in the need for a second Joint Strike Fighter engine and it showed. Appropriators have pushed through some $3 billion in funding for the F136 over the years and Murtha was in the front row as chairman of the House Appropriations defense subcommittee.

At the first meeting of the HAC-D under the leadership of Rep. Norm Dicks (D-Wash.) several members expressed doubt about the need for a second engine, marking what two lawmakers said was the first time members have publicly questioned the F136 during a subcommittee meeting.

Rep. Carolyn Kilpatrick (D-Mich.) was the first to raise questions about the second engine program, asking Rear Adm. David Philman and Air Force Maj. Gen. David Scott if they thought a second engine was necessary. Philman expressed the Navy’s viand said, that a second engine just made life too complicated for a service with little space to spare.

Dicks, exercising the chairman’s prerogative, jumped in, saying, “we’ve been told over and over that most of the problems [with JSF] are with the engine of record.” But Philman said the kinks appeared to have been ironed out of the Pratt & Whitney engine, which he said has 13,000 hours of testing behind it and is in low rate initial production

Dicks jumped back iin. “The program manager testified to this committee that the [Pratt] engine was the cause of the delays,” he said. “Maybe that’s why he isn’t the program manager any more.” Defense Secretary Robert Gates sacked the PM, Maj. Gen. David Heinz, at the beginning of the 2011 budget briefing.

I slipped out of the hearing to ask Rep. Kay Granger (R-Texas) if she would support the second engine program. She said she would not support the second engine if siphoned money from the JSF program. When I asked her if that meant she would support the F136 if the money came from another pot. It looks as if she may not vote for it, though there seems to be some wriggle room.

A Pratt & Whitney spokeswoman said the tight budget is helping soften lawmakers support for the F136. “As members of Congress start looking at having to make painful cuts in a number of defense and non-defense programs, I think more and more of them are going to come to the conclusion that it does not make sense to fund an engine that DoD says it doesn’t want, doesn’t need and won’t use. The Pratt & Whitney F135 has been cleared for vertical lift operations since January of 2009, and we remain ready today. The F135 is performing extremely well in flight test and we have delivered all but one test engine and are currently delivering production engines” said Erin Dick, spokeswoman for Pratt & Whitney Military Engines.

Toward the end of the hearing, Dicks told the room that he had received the infamous “business case” briefing about the F136 cited by Gates several times when he argued against funding for the second engine. However, checks with several sources left it unclear whether the brief had magically appeared or not. Buzz readers will remember that the leadership of the House Armed Services Committee told Gates they wanted to see the briefing.

Not all members spoke about the second engine. Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.), did, stepping in several times to express strong support for the second engine, built by General electric and Rolls Royce.

At the end of today’s hearing, I asked Dicks if cracks were appearing in the subcommittee’s support for the F136. “I think there’s still a lot of support for it,” he said referring to Rep. Skelton’s letter to Gates, which did not exactly answer the question of support on his subcommittee. “Secretary Gates has made this a very major issue and we’ll have to look at what he has to say.”

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With maybe $20 billion in engine profits at stake over the F-35 life cycle, don’t count a second engine player out quite yet! Whether it takes $250 million, $1 billion or $3 billion to complete the F136, if the taxpayers didn’t pay to complete the development, why wouldn’t GE/RR pay to complete the F136 if they can get $10 billion in profits over the aircraft life cycle?

Just think, the 1.9B that P&W is over budget would more than pay for the F136 to finish its testing. In fact, the 1.9B that P&W is over budget would buy “roughly” 110 F135 or F136 engines OR almost 20 F35 Aircraft (estimated of course). You know, the USG will typically pay Award Fees if the contractor meets several criteria; of which cost is one. Well, if the USG can pass along Hundreds of Millions in Award Fees to top performing contractors, why can’t contractors pay back the USG for NOT meeting the Award Fee criteria? The costs can be negotiated. Instead, the USG just doesn’t give them the Award fee and we all move on; like we saw Gates do to LM by holding back 600M in Award Fees. Another option is for Gates to use the 600M toward the Alternate Engine. In fact, I would almost wager that the USG could probably fund the remaining SDD and an LRIP or two for the Alternate Engine entirely on Award Fees that did not get passed along to the “other” contractors. Just thinking out of the box.

I don’t necessarily think the author is counting them out, however he’s just pointing out the representatives who are apparently now speaking out against it…not sure if that means anything.…they could have been speaking out against it before.…but perhaps because Kennedy and Murtha are gone now they feel free to say something. I’m not going to wade into the pro-136 vs pro-135 argument, I work for one of the engine suppliers. I’m way too down in the trenches to worry about all this stuff. I’m sure they’re both pretty darn good engines, I’ll only say that, because of my “love of aviation” I don’t get too wrapped up in the politics of it all. Watching an engine run is what it’s all about, nothing like seeing an engine light up!!

Some additonal reading from the GAO back in 2006. Not all-knowing but interesting.

Tactical Aircraft: DOD’s Cancellation of the Joint Strike Fighter Alternate
Engine Program Was Not Based on a Comprehensive Analysis


Formula…a claw back for contractor non-performance applied to government contract. I like it! But to make it work, it’ll have to be a public law driven contract provision included in all standard government contracts.

Add this piece of what used to be Japanese management style (at least until the Toyota fiasco) to the taxpayer’s tool chest or set of remedies. Automatically fire any government and contractor executive who’s program exceeds a 10% cost growth or schedule delay in any two-year period.

Exactly correct. GE and RR are very large companies who can afford to share the risk. If you are going to guarantee both GE and P&W half the business, there is no competition. If you punish GE because the engines the competed with over time were not competitive, that is competition. Profit in government contracts is controlled anyway, even with one bidder.
But, since JSF is the largest procurement in the DOD budget — and the program is vastly over cost — far fewer planes will be built. Maybe the entire program should be canceled. If you look at production of 1800–2500 total, costs go north of $200 million per copy. So maybe the engine companies are fighting over a lost cause.

So your suggesting the F135 be canceled in favor of the F136? The F135 is on track and most cost issues are due to the VTOL systems, something that P&W is largely doing the work for, when GE won’t have to when their engine is ready later.

They need to test both the f-l35 and f-136 on the f-35 and fly it for a while. Then they can compare and see which one is safer, compare the ground abort rates related to engine malfunctions, in flight emergencies caused by the engines, and life cycles of both engines, and so on. They should also allow maintainers to voice their opinions to see which one is more maintainer friendly. Now of course this will take time but sometimes something like this needs to be done in order to save in the long run. No one wants an aircraft that can’t even take off half the time because it repeatedly breaks.


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