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Second JSF Engine: To Be Or Not

To be. That, dear readers, is the question. Whether 'tis nobler in the mind of Defense Secretary Robert Gates to suffer the slings and arrows of GE and Rolls Royce's effective lobbying or to take Armes against a sea of troubles known as the deficit and Congress and by opposing end them.

With apologies to Shakespeare and all who love him, this battle does loom as one of the hardest fought and most complex fought in the Beltway trenches in many years, and it will grow hotter this afternoon with the budget's release.

GE and Rolls Royce, as they often do when tipping points approach, have unleashed their PR and lobby machine.

Their supporters on Capitol Hill fired off Valentines Day letters to their colleagues. The heads of the House Armed Services Committee's acquisition reform panel inked one, as did a member of the House Appropriations Committee.

In a Sunday email, GE spokesman Rick Kennedy targeted news that more money will be spent improving Pratt & Whitney's F135 engine.

Titled "Spin Week," Kennedy says that "P&W last week disclosed its new $1 billion overrun to its SSD program." Not exactly true. They did disclose increased spending for the Component Improvement Program and other increases. Kennedy is correct when he says, "CIP funds are designed to improve engines after they are deployed, not still in development."

Pratt's able F135 leader, Warren Boley, told reporters that $600 million will pay for more engines and support for three years of F-35 flight tests added by the Pentagon. About $400 million goes to the CIP.  Boley argued that those CIP funds are a normal part of any engine program when the Pentagon tries to improve the performance and endurance of engines once they begin moving past SDD. But his argument wobbled a bit when he went on to say that some of that money will pay for improvements to engine design margins, especially for the STOVL plane's lift system.

"GE says we took a $5 billion development contract and turned it into $7.5 billion," Boley told us. But he argued that two-thirds of the increase occurred because the the military changed requirements. What's left over -- $800 million -- was, he admitted, all Pratt's fault. But that works out to a 10 percent cost overrun, not an unreasonable figure on a major defense program's development phase, he argued.

GE counters that Pratt "really did not meet SDD goals, especially on durability which translates directly into maintenance costs.  The F-22 engine core (compress/combustor/high pressure turbine) - incorporated into the F135 for commonality -- runs hot," Kennedy wrote.

Delays to the F-35 test program, Kennedy argues, "could transform the JSF competitive engine debate. We are approaching a situation where all combat-capable F-35s procured by the U.S. military and its international allies can be delivered with the choice of either competing engine: the GE/Rolls-Royce F136 or the F135."

He argues that while the GE/RR engine orignally would have entered  production four years after Pratt's F135. Now, he says,  "the production schedule for the F136 - which has stayed on target through its development -- is now beginning to align with the first combat-ready aircraft."

Arm the archers. Muddy the fields. Hand out the money. Try to enlist the White House and Congress. Prepare for the next stage of the second Great Engine War.

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