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DoD fights HASC on competing bomber engines

The Pentagon's top weapons-buyer, Ash Carter, opposes a congressional proposal to require by law that the Air Force have two different engines for its next-generation bomber, John Bennett reports in the newspaper The Hill. House Armed Services Committee lawmakers want to prevent the kind of official ambiguity that has surrounded the alternate engine for the F-35 Lightning II and guarantee "competition" for the bomber's engines by explicitly requiring it. That's a bad idea, Carter wrote, per Bennett's story:

In a letter sent to House Armed Services Committee Ranking Member Adam Smith (D-Wash.), Pentagon acquisition chief Ashton Carter called it “inappropriate and premature to mandate in statute what the acquisition strategy should be for a subsystem of one element of this program.”

“A major tenet of the new bomber program is to maximize re-use of existing systems,” Carter wrote. “Very realistic opportunities exist, which do not require development of a new engine.” ... Requiring two engines to be built would drive up “cost and risk,” Cater said in the letter.

From the HASC lawmakers' perspective, a legal mandate for two engines serves two goals: First, it would preempt a "debate" about the need for "competition," like the one that has accompanied the F-35's alternate engine, in which reasonable people can disagree, but for which engine advocates have no iron fallback -- nothing carved in stone that says "thou shalt have two engines."

Second, given that much of the bomber program is going to be classified, Congress is running out of chances to publicly influence it. Of course lawmakers will likely get confidential updates as work goes forward, but they won't be able to talk freely about how they've bravely protected jobs in their districts. Likewise, once this program is underway and the Pentagon is inevitably complaining about the two engine mandate, lawmakers can say, "well we can't change the law now because we can't debate this in open session. So just deal with it."

With these kinds of battles over the bomber taking place so early in the program -- and with no way to know what kind of secret squirrel stuff is taking place behind the scenes -- no wonder many people are so nervous about it.

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