Hot, hot, hot. That's the only way to describe the last few weeks of the new engine war.
The latest salvo fired in the three-sided battle (DefSec Gates and Pratt vs. GE/Rolls Royce) comes from John Rice, GE's vice chairman of the board. In a bold move rarely taken by a major defense contractor, Rice directly and publicly rejects Robert Gates' statement before the Senate Appropriations defense subcommittee that the GE/RR engine "probably does not meet the performance standards that are required..."
In his letter to Gates, sent today and supplied to us by GE, Rice said Gates' statement "is clearly contradicted by the official assessments of the engine provided to GE and Rolls Royce."
He says their performance has been rated "exceptional" seven times and "very good" three times out of 10.
While it's not definitive, we got a strong indication that the Pentagon's people who actually oversee the F136 program day to day think it's doing pretty well. An F136 supporter told us that a March JSF Joint Program Office briefing on F136 testing since April 2009 says that three Systems Development and Demonstration production configuration engines were tested and their "performance consistent with pre-test predictions." The turbine inlet temperature was "cooler than prediction." Secondary air systems are "behaving as predicted."
Also, we hear that Congress sent the Pentagon a detailed list of questions on May 20 about Gates' claims that the second engine for the Joint Strike Fighter may not meet performance requirements and has not heard anything back yet.
In case anyone at the Pentagon needs reminding, here are some of the questions.
To our knowledge, this (May 20th) is the first time the Department has said anything about the F136 being offered not meeting the "needs" of the Dept.
What new information has become available that was not previously known or provided to Congress?
Would like to get his talking points and the analysis that supports them.
What makes the F136 engine being offered at a fixed price the "wrong engine?" Has the Department determined that any F136 key performance parameters are not being met?
What makes the (F136) "not sufficient for needs."
Is the engine GE offered at a fixed price different than the engine contracted for in 2005?
Does the F136 engine configuration being tested not meet the requirements of the test engine required by the 2005 SDD contract?
Plz provide a side-by-side of key performance parameters and other requirements of the current F-35A for each: F135 development engine (#s of various configurations), F135 production engine (#s of configurations), F136 "test stand engine" (# of configurations) and F136 engine that is expected to be available for flight test (#s of configurations) as contracted for, as well as production engine, if different."
How far apart are Gates and the GE-Rolls Royce partnership? At the end of today's letter, Rice notes a bit plaintively that GE has "repeatedly requested to meet on this matter and stand ready to discuss it at any time." GE isn't likely to get an appointment any time soon, it would seem. If they do, we will try to let you know.