JSF Will Be a ‘Vital Weapon’ in War on Terror

Posted May 20, 2007 at 11:00pm

The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter will help usher in a new era in fighter capability, bringing revolutionary technologies to the battle space of the future. In the works for more than a decade now, the JSF will serve as a multi-role aircraft for the Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps and our international partners. Its superior systems, stealth and firepower ensure the JSF will be the most affordable, lethal aircraft ever used. With three variants sharing 80 percent of their parts in production, the JSF will increase efficiency and continue the military’s modernization efforts.

The JSF is a single-engine fighter, and the production of its engine has been a subject of ongoing discussion between Pentagon officials and Members of Congress. Recognizing the inherent risk associated with a single-engine aircraft, the production of an alternate engine is viewed by some as a way to alleviate concern. The first Lockheed Martin-produced JSFs will be powered by the Pratt & Whitney F-135 engine. Contracts subsequently will be divided between Pratt & Whitney and General Electric/Rolls-Royce, producer of the F-136 alternate engine, with competitive submissions to follow.

During his 1930 State of the Union address, President Herbert Hoover said, “Competition is not only the basis of protection to the consumer, but is the incentive to progress.” The importance of adhering to market principles when granting government contracts should not be disregarded. When it comes to the federal government’s purchases, competition is the basis of protection to the taxpayer.

The role of our international partners in the development of the JSF also must be given considerable thought. As the JSF will be a vital weapon in the global war on terrorism, the advantage gained by cooperating with our allies, sharing costs and launching joint missions is significant.

Finally, the operational benefit of generating an alternate engine must be measured.

Congress has a long history of stimulating competition in aerospace development. Instrumental in initiating the “great engine war” of the 1980s and early 1990s, Congress provided for competition between Pratt & Whitney and General Electric in the bid to power the F-15 and F-16 aircraft. Throughout the controversy surrounding the JSF alternate engine, Congress has remained a staunch advocate of the program.

Despite awarding a contract in 2005 to General Electric to begin production of the F-136, the Department of Defense later reneged on its support for the project, excluding it from the department’s fiscal 2007 budget request. Congress ignored the Pentagon’s reversal and continued to fund the program, allocating $340 million. Moreover, as the Pentagon’s decision to cancel the JSF alternate engine appeared to be driven by budgetary constraints, Congress directed the department to conduct an analysis of potential cost savings — none of which have yet been made available.

In addition to market considerations, the international ramifications of terminating the F-136 are equally, if not more, important. As an effort to underwrite expenses associated with the JSF, the United States partnered with the United Kingdom and several other countries to fund the aircraft’s development and increase foreign sales. Again, looking at the great engine war, fielding two engines for the F-15s and F-16s greatly increased their international appeal. Limiting the JSF to one engine type could hamstring its export success and alienate our international partners. Furthermore, restricting JSF engine production to Pratt & Whitney will levy large revenue losses on Britain-based Rolls-Royce, a point on which Prime Minister Tony Blair repeatedly has lobbied President Bush. While the impact of terminating the JSF alternate engine cannot be definitively stated, we can be certain of a negative backlash from our international partners.

Most importantly, we should strive to produce the best product. Thus, the operational risk posed by eliminating an alternate engine is of paramount importance. Since backing away from its support for the program, Pentagon officials assert the risk of having only one engine is minimal and point to the satisfactory performance level of the F-135.

This assessment, however, ignores the relative youth of the F-135 engine; the innate risk associated with operating a single-engine versus a dual-engine aircraft; and the fact that the JSF eventually will be the only fighter jet in service, thus augmenting the impact of any engine problems suffered.

Pentagon studies on the F-136 alternate engine appear contradictory as well. While maintaining that a single-engine strategy produces minimal risk, it is conceded that the alternate engine offers “significant benefits” in readiness and reliability. The added benefit of increased resources for operations and support only adds weight to this argument.

While the full benefit of the JSF alternate engine will not be immediately apparent, past success with competitive aerospace programs provides a good measuring stick. The benefits of holding to market principles and engaging our international allies, along with the increased operational value, make a strong case for continuance of the JSF alternate engine.

Just last week, the House Armed Services Committee, of which I am a member, approved the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal 2008. Included in this bill is $2.3 billion for the acquisition of 12 F-35 JSFs, in addition to $3.7 billion for research and development. Furthermore, the committee authorized $480 million for the JSF alternate engine program. I believe the value of the JSF alternate engine is clear, and I plan to continue advocating on behalf of the program’s maintenance to ensure the JSF is the best aircraft it can be.

Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) is a member of the Armed Services Committee.