The top Joint Strike Fighter official says he unequivocally supports President Barack Obama’s fiscal 2010 budget request, which does not seek funds for a second JSF engine — but he is still planning for the F136 and suggests Washington consider the risk otherwise.
Citing the potential for “competitive advantage” from alternate engines for the single-engine F-35, and noting that there could be an operational risk some day from having just one engine, Marine Corps Brig. Gen. David Heinz told reporters at the JSF Joint Program Office June 2 that there might be considerations beyond the financial cost of funding dual powerplant efforts.
“Do we still believe that’s acceptable?” Heinz asked rhetorically.
Meantime, the general — selected for his second star after his promotion from deputy program chief — says it would be irresponsible for him not to plan for both engine efforts. “I have to,” he asserts, adding it would be “downright reckless” not to after Congress has earmarked funds for the second engine several times already. And besides, military officials spend a lot of their time planning for things that do not happen, he joked.
Heinz explained to the roundtable of reporters that funding development of a second engine from within the existing F-35 budget would cut production by 50 or more aircraft and push up program costs — a point he made to Aviation Week last week. But the program executive officer also stressed that economic modeling was difficult, and that a competition for the engines would likely drive down costs.
Heinz further asserted that the primary Pratt & Whitney F135 engine has yet to truly compete with the General Electric/Rolls-Royce F136, regardless of what Pratt and some supporters may suggest.
Assuming the program’s planned ramp-up and a 50-50 split engine order during the sixth low-rate initial production tranche, fiscal 2013 would be the first genuine year of the rivalry. Such a race could bring technology advancements too, the general notes. “They are just beginning in that competition,” he says.
Elsewhere, Heinz said authorities are trying to track down and prosecute those responsible for a cyber breach of the program a few years ago, recently highlighted in news reports. He would not comment further, saying all the publicity does not necessarily help that effort. “We are trying to actually capture a few of these individuals,” he says.