Gates is right about Defense efficiency

Secretary Robert Gates is right. It’s time for more efficiency in the Department of Defense. America is deeply in debt, the military is expensive but critical for our national defense and voters are demanding more accountability for every dollar spent.

In this time of tight budgets and the need to cut the federal deficit, it defies logic and good government that so many members of Congress on both sides of the aisle are comfortable saying that the federal budget needs to be cut, while at the same time casting votes to spend  taxpayer dollars on an unnecessary F-35 second engine. Why force the DoD to pay for two production lines, two supply chains and two sets of military maintenance personnel?


For many in Washington, especially those elected officials with parochial interests, it is easy to raise straw man issues instead of coming to grips with budget and operational realities.  The debate over funding for an extra engine for the F-35 perfectly fits the bill. Secretary Gates, clearly recognizing the need to trim the DoD budget, has to make tough decisions. He has to consider not just our nation’s critical national security needs, and the safety and security of our military men and women, but also economic reality.  

In this debate, it is important to recognize a few facts:

• DoD studies concluded funding an extra engine will not actually save money, improve reliability or increase safety.

• Secretary Gates has stated forcefully and repeatedly that DoD does not want or need an extra engine and can’t afford it.

• $2.9 billion spent on the extra engine could be better spent on things that keep our troops and our nation safe, such as increasing procurement of F-35s to reduce the unit cost of the airplane itself. This would constitute real F-35 procurement savings.

• The extra engine is still in development with only 400 hours of testing compared to the 19,000 hours accumulated by the primary engine. Thus, there is still high development and financial risk with the second engine.

• Rolls Royce of the U.K. has significant work share content in the second engine.  Hence, funding the second engine will result in the exit of jobs from America.

Further, there is a good reason why the U.S. Navy only wants one engine. As the Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Gary Roughead put it, “Procurement of an alternate engine for JSF increases our risk in this program. The Navy does not have a requirement for an alternate engine, and its additional costs threaten our ability to fund currently planned aircraft procurement quantities, which would exacerbate our anticipated decrease in strike fighter capacity.”  

In short, the best engine won a hard fought and fair competition. Continuing to fund the losing competitor, especially at a time when we desperately need to save money, is wasteful and counter to all procurement reform initiatives.

On this topic, lawmakers on Capitol Hill need to support Secretary Gates and his efficiency actions.

England is the former Deputy Secretary of Defense in the President George W. Bush administration.