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Tags: Project Management
You probably don’t remember the Merlin, the Allison V-1710, or the Wright Double Cyclone. They are famous piston engines of yesteryear, and they were key components in the development of well-known aircraft. The pity is that the magnificent sound of these hi-octane gasoline guzzlers has largely disappeared unless you get to a good air show.
Like hardware and software, airplanes and what are now called their propulsion systems are developed and acquired separately, even though each is useless without the other.
There’s a nasty and ongoing battle over a new engine, that of the F-35 Lightning Joint Strike Fighter (JSF). The engine is about as big as a school bus. The F-35 that looks to be the winner of this year’s Defense budget battles, and which Defense Secretary Robert Gates said should get the go-ahead for some 2,500 copies. There versions for the Army, Navy, Marines and Air Force. The prime contractor is Lockheed, and the plane’s single engine has been developed by Pratt & Whitney, a unit of United Technologies.
The development program for the JSF has been long and expensive. This is nothing new. The legendary Merlin engine took years to perfect so that it wouldn’t conk out on a combat mission.
It is through buying in high volume, aided by sales to allies, that DOD gets any economy out of such a program.
So –- it is more or less expensive to have two engine suppliers competing with one another? For more than a decade, Congress has forced money on the Pentagon for development of a second engine, from an alliance of General Electric (GE) and Rolls-Royce Group. That is, the Pentagon has never asked for the money. Some say a continuing competition for the thousands of engines that will be needed over the several-decade life cycle of the program will drive down cost and improve efficiency. Other say the redundancy will simply add expense and is nothing more than Congressional patronage of GE and its workers.
In this week’s 2010 budget submission, the Pentagon zeroed out funding for the GE/Rolls Royce engine. In earlier budget cycles, President George Bush tried to kill the second engine. President Obama may face the zombie engine if Congress resurrects it. Quoted in a New York Times story, Rep. Neil Abercrombie (D-Hawaii) promises to do just that.
Funny, sole sourcing is a concept that the procurement reformers have hit pretty hard. But whether it is good or bad depends on the context.