Can increased competition bring down costs for the over-budget F-35 fighter jet? Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) wants to know.
The chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee said he floated the idea to the Defense Department when he asked the Pentagon to review whether engine costs could be contained by adding another manufacturer to the mix, Bloomberg News reported. He added that he wasn’t sure if doing so is even permissible.
Engines for the Joint Strike Fighter program, the Pentagon’s most expensive weapons program, are made exclusively by Connecticut-based Pratt & Whitney, a unit of United Technologies Corp., as part of a sole-source contract. Propulsion system costs increased by $4.3 billion last year, according to a Pentagon report released this month. The overall price tag for F-35s rose 2 percent to $398.6 billion.
General Electric and Rolls Royce had been developing an alternative engine to Pratt & Whitney’s, but those efforts ended in 2011 after the Pentagon said it can’t afford to two engine programs. Re-introducing a competitor would require significant start-up costs and might not even be possible given the existing contract.
The Defense Department has already taken aim at Pratt & Whitney by withholding $25.7 million from the engine-maker, citing shortcomings in the company’s mechanisms for tracking costs and performance levels.
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