30. December 2005 · Comments Off on JSF Development Money Cut · Categories: Air Force, Air Navy, Politics, Technology

This from Aero-News:

Department of Defense representatives told Bloomberg News Friday the Pentagon plans to end a development program for a backup powerplant for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF.)

The move — which would have to be approved by Congress — aims to save approximately $1.7 billion through 2011, according to a DoD memo released last week. That’s not a small amount of money by any means — but it is a relative drop in the bucket compared to the $256 billion total cost of the fighter jet development program.

The backup program was initiated by Congress in 1995, according to Bloomberg, with the intent of maintaining competition and, thus, lowering costs of the Pratt & Whitney-designed powerplant intended to be the primary engines for the JSF. In a $2.2 billion deal, GE and Rolls-Royce teamed up to develop a backup powerplant — which also would have been utilized had technical problems cropped up with the P&W F135 units (below).

This would seem to me to be penny-wise and pound-foolish. Single-sourcing on any major component is just never a good idea. Even if there are no technical problems with the Pratt & Whitney design, any of myriad problems can develop to disrupt supply over the decades which this aircraft is expected to be in service. And I don’t believe, on a program of this size, any economies-of-scale will be realized by giving the entire production to one supplier.

My feeling, however, is that this cutback will not last. General Electric simply has to much clout in Congress (and Rolls-Royce in Parliament) to be nudged-out without a major fight.

But, as Military.com reports here, engine development is not the only part of the program facing cutbacks:

The plan would scale back the Pentagon’s requested JSF research, development, testing and engineering funding level by $108 million. The Senate-passed appropriations bill called for a larger $270 million reduction. The House’s defense spending bill fully funded the Pentagon’s $2.4 billion JSF RDT&E request.

The report accompanying the conferees’ FY-06 defense appropriations bill contains no language explaining the JSF reduction. But in a separate September report on the version of the defense spending Legislation that was later approved by the full chamber, the Senate Appropriations Committee said “continuing uncertainties” surround the joint Air Force-Navy program, making it “difficult to estimate the resources needed for the program.”

I find it a bit unsettling that these “continuing uncertainties” exist this far into the program. But it would seem to me that cutting development money would only hinder their resolution.

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