The last nail in the coffin of an unneeded U.S. weapon system was hammered home on Monday, April 25. The end came when the Defense Department formally notified the "General Electric/Rolls Royce Fighter Engine Team" that its services and its jet engine won't be needed.
Hence, all those fancy full-page newspaper ads from GE touting the absolute necessity of building a second engine for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter were for naught. The Pentagon isn't buying.
And that's a good thing.
DoD's acquisition office had previously reviewed its need for a second engine for the F-35, which would be flown by the Air Force, the Navy and the Marine Corps. Officials there concluded that the project was "unneeded and wasteful."
At an estimated $50 million a copy (in 2002 dollars), the same argument could be made about the F-35. But that's a separate issue.
The decision to finally kill the F-35 engine program follows a landmark February vote in the House to cancel $450 million needed to continue funding the alternative engine. The vote was a defeat for House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio. The GE plant where the engine would have been built is in the Cincinnati area.
A month later, DoD acquisition officials issued a "stop work" order that cut off further engine development, work that the Pentagon said was costing $1 million a day.
An alternative engine for the F-35 fighter jet is yet another example of something the United States can no longer afford. We have our hands full just paying for the plane itself, to say nothing of the two (three?) wars that are contributing to our debt.
In the ongoing budget deficit debate, a $450 million earmark is a drop in the bucket. Still, cancellation of an unneeded and unwanted jet engine represents a small, symbolic victory in the drive to put our fiscal house in order while directing military funding not to machines, but to the soldiers on the ground who must fight our wars.
It's the numbers coming out of Washington that don't add up! And Brad Pierce's comment about energy being a strategic defense issue is right on the money.
One of the reasons that China is investing in its military is to mitigate unemployment among young males who might otherwise become militant. Plus, they have a clear long-term vision that includes their need for energy and raw materials.
That planning was visible, way back in 1980, when I was first there. They were courting Nigeria's oil supply, even then!
Dual sourcing is one thing for individual components, but considering an engine as a component is stretching it (I agree that strict definition says it is a component, however...). Instead, they need to make sure the parts needed to make the engine have dual sources and take the funds to develop an alternate engine and deploy them elsewhere more beneficial.
Sure, if you are willing to cede air superiority to the Chinese. Fall asleep at the switch and you may not have time to recover because you will have decimated your capability by not nurturing it. I've personally seen critical expertise shrivel away in the defense industry. The Chinese are investing heavily in it.
The unfortunate part is that, on the three current fronts, air superiority could have been easily gained using 1970's era aircraft. There isn't a valid threat that requires updated aircraft. But hey, it keeps me employed so roll out the new models.
Dual sourcing started with the production of the F-16 in the 1980s when Pratt & Whitney was the original engine manufacturer, but there were issues with production delays, reliability and contractor responsiveness. So Congress funded the second sourcing of a competing GE produced engine.
But it doesn’t make sense to spend $450 million to handle problems with your supplier; the thing to do is work very closely so that rather than the typical arms-length supplier-customer relationship, it is a joint partnership effort. Or another option is to make P&W license their design to GE, so that there is supplier competition; even if there isn’t technology competition.
I worked on integration test for the preproduction release SW for the FADEC (engine control) on the original (P&W F135) engine so I guess this is validation that our work was quite acceptable. I never quite understood why a second engine design was needed anyway.
If the US DOE spent as much each year on energy R&D as it spends on nuclear security, the US would be a lot more secure in the long run.
According to http://www.carnegieendowment.org/files/schwartz_presentation20090112.pdf "nuclear weapons and weapons-related spending accounts for about 67% of the DOE budget".
According to http://www.carnegieendowment.org/files/nuclear_security_spending_low.pdf "the 2008 nuclear weapons and weapons-related “budget”
exceeds all anticipated government expenditures on international diplomacy and
foreign assistance ($39.5 billion) and natural resources and the environment ($33
billion). It is nearly double the budget for general science, space, and technology
($27.4 billion), and it is almost fourteen times what the U.S. Department of Energy
(DOE) has allocated for all energy-related research and development".
I'm not sure how one can make the case to support our troops fighting wars on three fronts without giving them the air superiority provided by modern F-35s. Seems to me that modernization of the military is a good thing generally but may needs to be limited by realistic expectations. There is always more pork in the military budget that needs to be cut, but I hope the generals and military establishment make the most expedient choices.
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