The Air Force Association holds its annual Air & Space Conference this week, Sept. 14-16, and we'll be covering it online with blogging, news files and photos. To start the week right we're posting recent stories covering that field. The story below first appeared in the September 8 Aerospace Daily & Defense Report.
Government Sends F135 Tiger Team Into Pratt & Whitney
A high-level, independent Joint Assessment Team (JAT) has been formed by the Pentagon’s chief procurement executive to investigate concerns about a surge in the projected cost of the Pratt & Whitney F135 engine for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) — even as the Pentagon and White House move to shut down the General Electric/Rolls-Royce F136 alternate engine and eliminate the engine competition that has been an integral part of the program since 1996.
Undersecretary of Defense for acquisition, technology and logistics Ashton Carter is understood to have set up the JAT following a late July meeting with the JSF joint program office (JPO), where JSF leaders warned that F135 costs appeared to be headed for higher-than-budgeted levels. JSF director Brig. Gen. David Heinz has expressed concern about F135 costs, but has reportedly been cautioned against public comments by Defense Secretary Robert Gates.
The team is working on a tight schedule, visiting Pratt & Whitney later this month and reporting by early October. What’s also unusual is that its reported tasks are in line with tasks that a system project office would normally handle internally.
Carter has asked former acquisition official and DHS deputy secretary Paul Schneider to chair the JAT, which will include Pentagon, Air Force and Navy representatives along with some outside consultants. Its goal, industry sources say, is to investigate and understand Pratt & Whitney’s cost structure and help the JSF office in its assessment of the company’s latest Low Rate Initial Production (LRIP) IV bid. The JAT also will look at scrap rates and other production issues.
Pratt & Whitney, meanwhile, says that the company “continues to work aggressively with the JPO to reduce the cost of the F135 engine and we have made progress. Our upcoming LRIP IV Proposal reflects confidence in our cost reduction strategy.”
Engine costs are a major issue for the JSF because the program’s unit cost goals are extremely challenging. On Aug. 31, Gates visited Lockheed Martin’s Fort Worth plant and stated that the fighter would cost only half as much as the F-22 in full production.