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Hill Rips ABC's F136 Story

It's not often those people who still watch network news are treated to a story about the weapons America buys, so when ABC's flagship news program broadcast a story about the second engine program for the Joint Strike fighter most of us who watch these things every day took note. You'll get a general diea of the story's bent from its title: "Pentagon Chokes on Pork." At least one person on Capitol Hill in particular took note, and was not happy. Following is a detailed critique of the story by a Capitol Hill aide.

ABC Evening News, 5-21-10: The military is perfectly happy with the engine it has.

Fact:

The most senior civilian acquisition official in the Air Force stated in a memo to Pentagon acquisition officials on April 19, 2009: “F135 engine [primary engine in the F-35] cost growth is an ongoing concern.”

The most senior civilian acquisition official in the Department of Defense, July 2009: “These costs [on the primary F-35 engine] are outside the bounds of Selected Acquisition Report projections, and I am concerned about continued cost growth in the F135.”

The Director of the F-35 Program Office, June 2009: “The Pentagon needs to carefully consider the operational risk of having just one engine for the F-35 fighter jet…competition could bring faster technology development and lower costs…a single engine could be worrisome if an engine problem ever grounded the fighters…In the past, having a variety of fighters meant the Pentagon could use other planes to offset any groundings, like an 11- month engine-related halt in Harriers in 2000…I simply think that we’ve focused too much on the discussion about cost benefit and not the operational risk benefit.”

ABC: GE lost out in original competition.

Fact:

The most senior acquisition official in the Department of Defense, Ashton Carter:

• Secretary Carter, March 24, 2010: “Pratt & Whitney [Current provider of F-35 engine] was awarded a non-competitive SDD [final research and development phase for the F-35, which is scheduled to end in 2016] contract [meaning there was no competition] for the [F-35] F135 propulsion system [in 2001].”

ABC: Secretary Gates video clip from May 20, 2010: “Only in Washington does a proposal where everybody wins [is] considered a competition, where everybody is guaranteed a piece of the action at the end."

Fact:

About as simplistic as one can get. This is a comment for talk radio, not a serious discussion about defense acquisition. Defense acquisition is not about four quarters or nine innings.

The Defense Department wants to earmark over $100 billion for one contractor for the next 30-40 years. Members of Congress aren’t elected for life and have to justify their positions to their constituents every two years – but it is just fine to have the Defense Department earmark over $100 billion for 30-40 years to one contractor?

Secretary Gates’ statement is totally contrary to statute and the Pentagon’s own acquisition policies and directives -- The Competition in Contracting Act (section 2304 of title 10, United States Code) requires competition in contracting and section 202 of the Weapon Systems Acquisition Reform Act of 2009 requires acquisition strategies to ensure competition throughout the life cycle of a weapon system.

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