Keeping Both F135 and F136 Engines for F-35 is Good Business

Keeping Both F135 and F-136 Engines for F-35 is Good Business

Mirrors Commercial Practices

Experts Agree Competition Drives Engine Innovation

F136 engine designed for F-35 Joint Strike Fighter

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates took full advantage of a softball question at a Wall Street Journal forum on November 17 to punch out the F-136 engine again.

“I went to the Hill with 33 programmatic decisions last year, and the Hill supported me on 31 of them. The 32nd was stopping production of the C-17. I think that will happen in this year's bills. And so the one remaining issue is the alternate engine,” Gates said according to the transcript.

Nothing personal, but it sounds like Secretary Gates is more interested in his box score than in what’s best for those who fly the F-35.

“My idea of competition in the acquisition arena is: Winner takes all,” Gates said.

Yet ongoing competition is already standard practice in the cut-throat airline industry. You buy a jetliner, you get a choice of engines. Purchase a 787 Dreamliner then choose GE or Rolls Royce engines. Buy an Airbus 380 and then select engines from Rolls Royce or the Engine Alliance, a joint venture of GE and Pratt and Whitney. (Reminds me of, since I’ve been through Dunlop, Michelin and Pirelli high-performance tires on my car, but then I drive in DC…)

F-136 is not an “extra” engine. The idea is to have two engines available to US and allied customers as they buy F-35s over the next 20+ years

Experts agree. General Charles Horner, who led the Operation Desert Storm air war, says fund the F-136, as does Dr. Mark Lewis, engineering professor and former Air Force chief scientist.

The point is that selecting engines is established good practice and the only way to get maximum innovation. It’s even more critical for a state-of –the art fighter program that will be in production for a generation. Over that time the money spent on engines could top $70 billion. And we don’t want competition in performance and price? Really?