The Great Engine War II: Choice or Monopoly for Global F-35 Fleets?
Senate Appropriation Committee says Pentagon should reconsider the F136’s termination, Pentagon unwilling to do so; Background improved; Article reorganized & reformatted; Additional Readings sections updated and upgraded.
July 17/14: Politics. The Senate Appropriations Committee approves a $489.6 billion base FY 2015 budget, plus $59.7 billion in supplemental funding. It includes a section covering the F135 engine, and it’s clear that the members aren’t happy:
“F135 Engine. When the Department of Defense made the decision to terminate the alternate engine for the F–35 Joint Strike Fighter [JSF] in May of 2011, it reassured the Committee that a second engine was no longer necessary as a hedge against the failure of the main JSF engine program. The Department also stated that the financial benefits, such as savings from competition, were small if they existed at all. Since that time, the F135 engine has experienced numerous problems, including the failure of an oil flow management valve and a pre-take-off fire in the past few weeks, both of which grounded the entire fleet of over 100 aircraft. Further, the F135 engine unit cost has not declined as projected. However, the Committee believes that had the alternate engine program continued, competition would have incentivized the F135 engine manufacturer to find creative methods to drive down prices and ensure timely delivery of a high quality product, which is consistent with current Department preference for competition in acquisitions. Therefore, the Committee recommends the Secretary of Defense reassess the value of an alternate engine program creating competition to improve price, quality, and operational availability.”
American budgets still have to be reconciled in conference with the House of Representatives, then signed by the President, so there’s no guarantee that this remains in the FY 2015 defense budget as passed.
The USAF is saying that the recent F135 engine fire is probably a one-off event, based on examination of the other 98 planes. Still, the point about fleet availability has been made. The meltdown also appears to have destroyed a $120 million jet, and killed the F-35’s much-hyped attendance at the world’s top military air expo in Farnborough. Nevertheless, Pentagon acquisition Chief Frank Kendall is saying that “We’re not interested in this point in going back several years and opening up to another competitor.” That has worked before with the F110, but it’s also worth asking if GE and Rolls Royce are still interested, in the wake of their own cancellation (q.v. Dec 2/11). Sources: DID, “FY15 US Defense Budget Finally Complete with War Funding” | Defense News, “Senate Panel to Pentagon: ‘Reassess’ Value of Alternate F-35 Engine” | Foxtrot Alpha, “Axing The F-35’s Alternative Engine Was An Incredibly Stupid Move.”
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