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Levin Doubts F136 Veto Threat

UPDATED: With SASC Rebuttal of Gates' F136 Competition Claim "I don't see any problems with his nomination at all." That's the money line from Sen. Carl Levin about tomorrow's hearing of his Senate Armed Services Committee to confirm the appointment of Gen. David Petraeus to lead allied force in Afghanistan.

Levin, speaking at a Defense Writers Group breakfast this morning, said he would continue to press his belief during the hearing that there are far too few Afghan troops in Kandahar. He handed out a chart showing end strength figures for March-May and an October estimate. ISAF troops around Kandahar number 6,900 now, compared to 5,300 for Afghan army and police. By October the Afghan force is estimated to increase to 8,500 while ISAF forces will hit 11,850."That is totally unacceptable to me in terms of the mission," Levin said. Kandahar is the locus of the fight and Afghan forces should be present in larger numbers. He noted that Afghan Army total end strength is currently 119,000 and should hit 134,000 come October, with combat troop numbers rising from 70,000 to 80,000 but Afghan forces around Kandahar will still be outnumbered by ISAF forces.

Levin argued that the 2011 date for the beginning of withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan was intact. And he said Lt. Gen. William Caldwell, who leads training efforts for Afghan Army and security forces, had told him that the 2011 date has helped increase Afghan Army recruitment, which are up.

In other news, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee said he "can't imagine" President Obama would veto the defense policy bill over the F136 engine. He strongly rebutted Defense Secretary Robert Gates' recent claim that the F136 had been competed and the winner -- Pratt & Whitney -- won. "By the way, there's never been a competition on that engine," Levin said. "Did he [Gates] say there has been competition? Then he's wrong."

Brushing aside persistent rumors that the defense authorization bill won't make it past the post this year, Levin told me he was confident the defense policy bill will pass this year, notwithstanding filibuster threats from Republicans over the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell and other, less comprehensible, issues. Levin did make clear scheduling the bill's passage is an issue, especially with the death of Sen. Robert Byrd. "We've got to pay tribute to his life," the senator said, acknowledging that will slow the Senate's ability to pass bills for the next week.

Finally, in a graceful coda, Levin said he thought Gen. Stan McChrystal would be "fine. He'll land on his feet." He cast McChrystal's demise as Afghan commander as one of those unexpected trials we all face in life, though he conceded that the general's undoing was certainly more public than most.

Following is the Senate Armed Service Committee's official answer to the question: was there an engine competition between Pratt & Whitney's F135 and the GE/Rolls Royce F136.

Compiled by the Majority Staff of the Senate Armed Services Committee "Has there been a competition between the Pratt & Whitney F135 and the GE/Roll Royce F136?

No. There has never been an engine competition for the Joint Strike Fighter.

· In 1996, DOD awarded competitive contracts to the airframe competitors for the JSF program, Boeing and Lockheed Martin for the Concept Development phase of the JSF program.

· Both contractors selected a variant of the Pratt &Whitney F119 engine (the F-22 engine) as their propulsion system.

· DOD picked a single contractor (Lockheed Martin) for the JSF Engineering and Manufacturing Development (EMD) phase in 2001.

· Lockheed Martin maintained their selection of the P&W engine when they were awarded the EMD/Systems Development and Demonstration (SDD) contract in 2001.

· John Roth, and official in the DOD Comptroller’s office, acknowledged that no competition was ever held in testimony before the House Oversight and Government Reform, Subcommittee on National Security and Foreign Affairs hearing on May 19, 2010.

· When the JSF was first conceived, it was assumed the F-22 engine (produced by P&W) would be used in the JSF.

· Citing commonality with the F-22, DoD directed the competing air vehicle contractors to use the Pratt & Whitney engine as the engine for the Concept Demonstration Contract.

· It later became clear the F-22 engine (F119) would not meet requirements for the JSF, but no competition was ever held to meet the JSF requirement.

· The Government paid Pratt & Whitney to develop a derivative of the F119 engine to meet the JSF requirement.

· That new Pratt & Whitney engine, called the F135, is now the primary JSF engine."

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