GAO Slams F-35 Dual-Engine Program Cancellation
The proposed cancellation of the GE/Rolls Royce F136 engine program threatened to undermine British support for the JSF program, pull GE out of the military jet engines business, and hand Pratt & Whitney a near-monopoly on engines and long-term maintenance for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter via its F135 engine. The US Congress seems decidedly unhappy with ending the F-35’s interchangeable engine program, which may have been an unusually inflammatory version of the classic “Washington Monument” false budget cuts gambit.
Now the USA’s official Government Accountability Office weighs in, in response to a request from Sen. John Warner and Rep. Curt Weldon:
“The Department of Defense (DOD) expects to purchase about 2,400 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) aircraft, with potential international sales of 2,000 to 3,500 aircraft. When the number of aircraft engines and spare parts expected to be purchased is considered – along with the lifetime support needed to sustain the engines – the future financial investment will be significant. DOD implemented the JSF alternate engine development program in 1996 to provide competition between two engine manufacturers in an effort to achieve cost savings, improve performance, and gain other benefits.
Since then, DOD has invested $1.2 billion in the alternate engine program, and, in August 2005, it awarded a $2.4 billion contract for system development and demonstration of an alternate engine. However, in its fiscal year 2007 budget submission, DOD proposed canceling the alternate engine program. Concerned whether this decision was based on sound analysis, you asked us to review DOD’s rationale for canceling the program and the analysis supporting it, including the life cycle savings, benefits, and risks assessed.”
The summary and links to the full May 22, 2006 report can be found here [HTML abstract | full PDF version]. Suffice to say, the GAO does not think the decision was based on sound reasoning, and explains why.
In fairness, the British Financial Times notes that the Department of Defense criticized the GAO report as one that is “misleading in a number of respects and left out important information,” arguing that data showing savings from competition did not exist. The DoD also contends that the F135’s derivation from the F-22A Raptor’s F119 engine reduces its development risks, and makes reliance on it acceptable.
Sen. Warner’s committee recently voted to restore $408 million to allow GE and Rolls Royce to continue developing their F-136 engine for the F-35 JSF, and the combination of this decision and the GAO report substantially improve the chances that the F136 will remain in the final budget. GE, Rolls Royce, and the UK government will certainly be lobbying hard for that, though the road from here to there will end up going through three other Congressional committees.