Rumor alert -- we've got few details yet but a source with access to Joint Strike Fighter officials says that Marine Maj. Gen. David Heinz, PEO for the program, was recently called onto the carpet by Defense Secretary Gates. The message: stop talking about problems with the Pratt & Whitney engine and how second engine programs have proved themselves in the past. "They have hammered Heinz to say nothing more about this," our source says.
Gates and President Barack Obama have said repeatedly that the second engine program does not need to be funded and is a waste of money. While the White House has not issued the sort of hard veto threat issued about the F-22 the second engine is clearly becoming a focus for the Pentagon as it scrambles to find ways to save money in the face of ballooning deficits and persistent operational costs (see Afghanistan) and United Technologies lobbyists are working their hearts out on this on to stop GE and Rolls Royce from putting a dent into Pratt's funding flow.
And Gates was apparently very unhappy that Heinz pointed out that Pratt is having quality problems. And Heinz did not speak out against a second engine. In fact, while Heinz told me he was not making any argument for a second engine program, he also said the historic record on having a second contractor competing on price and technology spoke for itself.
This is what our story said: “I am pushing very hard on Pratt to do better,” Heinz told me when I asked him about cost increases in the engine program. He said he expects Heinz to improve to the point where 80 percent of parts meet his standards. Heinz’s criticism come at a crucial point in the debate over the second engine program, with the Obama administration pressing to kill the F-136 and the Senate having voted last week to do just that.
Heinz would not be drawn on whether he supported a second engine program, which Congress says is necessary to spur competition and lower costs. When I pressed him, Heinz noted that there are historic tests of engine competition, a clear reference to the famed engine wars of the F-16 program.
If Gates really wants to stop the second engine program, his arguments will be severely undercut on the Hill should the program's top official be stating in the best Marine fashion the simple point that has driven lawmakers from the beginning to fund the program -- having a second company competing against the main engine provider will force better performance from the main contractor and lead to lower costs. Oh, by the way, we are hearing early reports that the GE/Rolls engine may deliver significantly greater thrust -- up to 40 percent greater thrust than the Pratt engine in the B model.