Joint Strike Fighter - Engine,STOVL version , Rolls Royce power plant and UK carriers at risk as Congress doles out 2009 Military pork barrel ration
The future of the Joint Strike Fighter is of critical concern to both the future defence strategy of the UK, the Navy and it's only aircraft engine manufacturer.
Congress presides over a massive pork barrel for the military industrial complex but it does, ultimately, want to develop the best and most lethal tools to support their role as the world's policeman.
When developing the F - 16 they were keen to ensure that General Electric (GE) and Pratt & Whitney (P&W) were pitted against each other to power, what was then seen as a world beater. So when the F35 Joint Strike Fighter was entering it's developmental phase, the Pentagon, who were pushing the Lockheed airframe complete with the P & W F135 Congress demanded they look at the GE/Rolls Royce alternative.
Now the argument has surfaced again in dramatic form as news has filtered out that on February 4th the F-135 had another turbine blade failure whilst on test. A third stage low pressure blade on flight test engine (FTE 6) which was en route to power the short take off and vertical landing (STOVL) F-35 B aircraft BF1 (see Banner above). Which is the version that the Royal Navy require for their 2 spanking new aircraft carriers.
The first failure in August during ground testing was eventually traced to high cycle fatigue as a result of vibrations with other components on the third LP stage ( which has been added to power the lift fan) and P&W now feel they have managed to resolve the problem and proof tested FTE-1 and FTE -3 .
This latest test was designed to allow identification of blades prior to failure and it failed - which delays testing of the BF-1 expected to fly the STOVL plane in May.
Back in the UK Rolls Royce have announced a cut back of 2,800 staff worldwide - The company refused to say where the cuts will come, but it is likely most will be in Britain - probably 1,500 in the UK. Almost 60% of Rolls' 39,500 workers are based in Britain. More than half of those - 12,500 - are at its Derby manufacturing base, with another 3500 in Bristol.
Whilst Congress doles out the pork in the 2009 Military estimates GE is pitching again. Congress added US$480 million for GE's engine before approving the budget in he 2008 appropriation . It found US$370 million the year before. Congress are being asked by GE for US$440 million this year.
GE also is anxious to point out that the US government has already invested heavily in its engine — US$2.3 billion by the end of fiscal 2008 — and says killing it now would waste that money already spent. On February 13th they were able to announce that the GE Rolls-Royce Fighter Engine Team had successfully completed its Critical Design Review, a major milestone in the F136 engine development program.
A critical matter for Rolls Royce as they mull their cutbacks.
P& W 's woes couldn't have come at a better time. Of course they could just ditch the overweight, fault prone STOVL version.... and make the UK carriers planeless. But they won't because the US Navy need it and Rolls Royce have the technology to get the STOVL element right.