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Veteran Defense Panel Staffer Dies at 70

Courtesy Michael Jacobssen
Roach, a combat pilot, served with the Thunderbirds, a flight performance team.

Most of the time, Roach was a strong proponent of allowing the military to set its own course. But he became more personally involved in some programs.

In particular, he was a strong proponent of the controversial alternative engine program for the multiservice F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program.

Roach was a strong believer that building a second type of engine — pitting Pratt & Whitney, the core engine developer for the F-35, against General Electric — would play an important role in driving down the cost of the $100 billion engine program while also helping to improve the performance of both engines.

But the Pentagon decided over time to cancel the alternative engine as a cost-cutting measure, a move resisted by many in Congress.

One senior House defense panel aide recalled a meeting before a critical vote on the engine in 2010 when Ashton B. Carter, then the Pentagon’s acquisition chief, met with several dozen staffers and members in the Capitol.

“After Carter made brief remarks, Doug Roach then took over the event by jumping up and interrupting Dr. Carter numerous times with very pointed questions like ‘Mr. Secretary, that last statement just isn’t accurate’ and ‘Mr. Secretary, there is just no factual basis for that statement,’” the aide said. “I remember admiring his bravery in going after a senior DOD official, and so publicly, to fight for something he thought was right. I also remember admiring his ability to keep his cool and stay professional as he did it.”

For several years, Roach worked with lawmakers to resist the Pentagon’s effort to terminate the GE engine. He often sent lengthy emails, dubbed “Roach clips” by colleagues, to staffers and reporters that critiqued news stories on the engine competition.

“Doug sent clips to staff every day, early,” one senior congressional aide wrote in an email. “Most of the time before 6 a.m.”

In the end, however, Gates succeeded in terminating the second engine. Roach was disappointed in this decision. He argued that it was one way the F-35 program could have gained some control over its maintenance and sustainment costs over its planned 50-year life, which could cost an astounding $1.1 trillion.

Roach could blister the air with foul language in the House Armed Services military hardware offices, known as “the pit,” at some real or perceived injustice, inaccuracy or inanity, but he also was known for his light touches.

“He was the same sweetheart who secretly left Godiva chocolate Santas and Easter bunnies (and, this year, Thanksgiving turkeys, too) on the desks of all the women who worked for HASC,” one senior aide noted. “They weren’t supposed to say ‘thank you’ because they weren’t supposed to know who left them, but they always made the women smile.”

A highly decorated officer who retired with the rank of colonel in the Air Force, Roach was a skilled combat pilot and later served with the Air Force flight performance team, the Thunderbirds.

Roach was born in Romulus, Mich., on Nov. 18, 1942. He earned a bachelor of arts degree in government at the University of Michigan and a master’s degree in national security studies from Georgetown University. He is survived by his brother, Jarmin.

Megan Scully contributed to this report.

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