GE and Rolls Royce supporters want us to believe that the independent QDR panel supports the F136 program as a fine example of competition. While the panel did voice strong support for competition to lower prices and nudge programs to field capabilities more quickly, its co-chairman staunchly refused to support the F136 program as an example of competition.
At Thursday's hearing of the House Armed Services Committee, Rep. Duncan Hunter pressed Bill Perry, co-chairman of the independent QDR panel and former Defense Secretary, hard for an opinion on whether the F136 program was a good example of competition in a major weapon system, something Perry's panel praised as a key attribute of acquisition the military should follow to reduce costs and get capabilities to the field more quickly. Hunter noted the grounding of the F-18 fleet for wing cracks as an example of why it's a good idea to have multiple suppliers. Hunter is a Marine who served in Iraq before being elected to the House.
Perry praised competition but would not be led to endorse a program Defense Secretary Robert Gates and the Obama administration has condemned as wasted pork. He noted that the panel had not picked any current program as a good example of competition. Here's what the panel recommended in its report: "OSD should return to a strategy requiring dual source competition for production programs in circumstances where this will produce real competition."
After duly noting that his panel unanimously supported the concept of competition, Perry offered this fairly pungent comment: "I think the issue is this real competition that will get prices down, or is this directed procurement." Given that he refused to endorse the F136 as a good example of competition, it would seem pretty clear that he views it as "directed procurement," directed, of course, by Congress.
That does not exactly add up to a ringing endorsement of the F136 as a competitive program. It doesn't mean it isn't forcing Pratt & Whitney to scramble either. Just take into account the fact that Perry was Gates' pick to co-chair the QDR panel and draw your own conclusions.