The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter has been under development for a number of years now and is slated to become the fighter aircraft for the Air Force, Navy and Marines.
For the U.S. Navy, the JSF will be used in a "first day" of war, as a survivable strike fighter aircraft to complement F/A-18E/F. The U.S. Air Force will employ it as a multirole aircraft, primary-air-to-ground, which will replace the F-16 and A-10 and to complement the F-22. The Marine Corps will use the Short Takeoff and Vertical Landing (STOVL) variant of the aircraft to replace the AV-8B and F/A-18A/C/D.
And let's not forget we will sell this to other countries.
The United Kingdom became a full collaborative partner in the program in 1995. Denmark, Norway, The Netherlands, Canada and Italy subsequently joined the program as cooperative partners. Singapore, Turkey and Israel are foreign military sales participants for this [Systems Development and Demonstration] phase.
A primary selling point in developing an aircraft with "70 to 90 percent commonality factor for all the variants" is "significantly reducing manufacturing, support and training costs." We want a plane that's more affordable in the long haul.
Duplications of efforts are being avoided, technology is more effectively leveraged, and greater economies of scale are being achieved through the joint acquisition of the F-35.
Affordability is the cornerstone of the F-35 program. It is achieved in large part through a very high level of common parts and systems across the three versions of the aircraft. Support costs are forecast to be about half that of present-day fighters, and streamlined assembly methods will cut production time significantly.
Pratt & Whitney and GE/Rolls Royce are each developing their own engine for the aircraft. The Department of Defense has now decided they don't need a second engine and wants to reduce costs by going with the primary contractor, Pratt & Whitney. GE is not happy about that because the engine contract will be worth billions over the lifetime of the aircraft.
Two days ago the House voted on an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2011. The purpose of the amendment was to remove funding for the second engine. Note that this is an unrequested competitive (alternative) engine for the Joint Strike Fighter placed in the bill by the Republican party. The amendment was defeated with bipartisan support for and against. Check out the arguments for and against the amendment on the GOP web site (scroll down to #80):
* Arguments in Favor of Amendment: Some Members may be concerned that the Obama Administration and Bush Administrations opposed funding the alternative engine on grounds that it is "costly and unnecessary." Secretary Gates has suggested a presidential veto if Congress funds the second engine noting that finishing development would cost $2.9 billion over the next six years.
* Arguments Against Amendment: Some Members may be concerned that competition should be a guiding principle in defense procurement and this amendment would essentially result in a sole source, 25-year contract. Additionally, through FY 2010, the government has already invested about $2.9 billion in the alternate engine development. Members may believe that a competitive engine development program would better ensure an affordable, reliable engine, and protect against the operational risk of having up to 95 percent of the entire U.S. fighter fleet dependent on one engine. The Heritage Foundation believes that a single engine contract "constitutes an unacceptably high risk."
In this case "competition" means Congress giving the military money to buy something it doesn't want or need from a manufacturer specified by Congress. The rationale that we've already spent $2.9 billion so another $485 million wouldn't matter flies in the face of reason. In the long run, having two different engines from two different manufacturers will cost a lot more than having the single source. A single source is a risk, but it hasn't proven disastrous for other aircraft. That's why they undergo years of testing before they go into production.