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  • Behind The Battle Of The Generals
    Posted by Bill Sweetman 2:25 PM on Aug 31, 2009

    Somewhere in the first comment thread on the "was there a competition?" spat over the F135 and F136 engines, Graham Warwick bemoans the fact that history from more than a decade ago is running decisions today.

    That's correct. In a technical sense, it doesn't matter - what should be important is whether the long-term benefits of a second engine are worth its current and future cost.

    Politically, it's another kettle of fish.

    P&W has conveniently assembled a mass of quotes from the engine debate (scroll down to "A Clear Winner").  Senators Lieberman, McCain, Chambliss and Snowe have all stated on the Congressional record that there was a competition and P&W won.

    This is a powerful argument, because it implies that Congressional F136 supporters are trying to use politics to reverse a proper and responsible decision. To quote McCain: "We are not talking about competition, we are actually talking about another bite at the apple."

    But of course it is not true, as we have seen and the public record shows. The government never conducted an engine competition for the JSF. The three primes going into the JSF prototype stage made their own engine choices for the prototypes only, but time and cost constraints heavily favored the P&W F119. And since all three prototype proposals used the F119, engine competition was not a factor in the government's choice.

    The government had a competitive strategy in place before the prototype downselect, and before 1998 had formally set in place the two-engine strategy that was the program of record until 2006. When the JSF program office did try to end the F136 program it was done with no formal competition. 

    So why did members of the Senate get this important fact wrong? It seems that they believed what P&W told them, via the F135 engine website and other means. A banner line on the site as (update) it existed on Saturday


    blog post photo


    This linked on Saturday (update), however, to text that makes a more qualified claim: 

    Two of the three original bidders for the F-35 project chose Pratt & Whitney engines to power their proposed airframes.  The bidder who did not was the first eliminated from the original competition. 

    More qualified, but still false, since all three contenders for the prototype stage of the project (although anyone reading it would think that P&W's talking about the whole program) went into source selection with the F119.

    Nobody likes being misled, and politicians really don't like it at all. 

    By the way, a postscript on Gen Loh's comments. As he says in his introduction:  "As the former commander of the Air Force’s aircraft and engine acquisition center, Air Force Vice Chief of Staff, and Commander of its largest operational command, I participated in the early days of what is now the JSF program and I recall the facts as though they occurred yesterday."

    General Loh retired on July 1, 1995. As we've seen, McDonnell Douglas was still working with GE at that time and the dual-engine strategy had not yet been formulated. 

    Update:  In the light of General Loh's comment, I thought I'd take a look at the historical evidence. First, from then-program director Adm Craig Steidle, at the announcement of the CDA downselect in October 1996:

    "We do have a competitive engine program. You've seen it reflected in the language that came back from the congressional committees this year... It's very, very important that when we get to the introduction of the airplane in the fleet that we have two competitive engines ... Each one of these contractors, the three teams, know ... that we have required them to look at a competitive engine. That competitive engine program is underway. We have a contract with General Electric out of my office. The first phase of the program has been completed. We've identified an F120 engine as the competitive engine program. We have funded a program between now and when we need to start an EMD program on that engine, that is 2004, to get it into an airplane in 2008 to compete with the F119 versions.

    Next, from the SDD award announcement in October 2001:

    The Joint Strike Fighter acquisition strategy also calls for the development of two propulsion systems. The Pratt & Whitney system will compete, in production, with one developed by the team of General Electric and Rolls Royce. GE/RR are expected to receive a contract for the next phase of development of that system in the next few weeks. The P&W and GE/RR engines will be physically and functionally interchangeable in both the aircraft and support systems. All JSF aircraft variants will be able to use either engine. The competition starts in fiscal 2011 and continues through the life of the program to reduce risks. 

    Update 2:  I will never make a fighter pilot. By the time it occurred to me that I should make a full screenshot of the relevant PW pages, it was too late. Winston Smith got there first. The banner head now reads:

    blog post photo

    And the text has been replaced by a much longer statement which, while it is technically accurate, glosses over the fact that the two-track "co-opetition" engine program goes back to the very beginnings of JSF. For the record, here's what it said on Saturday:

    blog post photo

    Anyone who can find anything on the site that acknowledges that the wording has changed can take a cookie from my desk. 



    Tags: ar99, f135, f136

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