- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 14, 2010

Washington is a town where conflict and contradiction generally rule the day, especially during election season. That’s why it’s so refreshing to know there is one thing Congress, President Obama and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates all agree on: greater competition in government contracts. And yet, when it comes to our military’s most significant - and costly - project in modern history, the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF), the president and defense secretary once again have pinned taxpayers in another Washington contradiction by calling on Congress to hand over a 30-year, $100 billion monopoly to a single supplier for the JSF engine program.

That’s not how we would define “competition.”

The JSF will soon come to represent 90 percent of our fighter-jet fleet; competition on its engine program is critical to driving better performance, readiness and overall cost savings for our airmen and our taxpayers. This kind of competition is exactly what the Department of Defense’s own independent review called for, and it’s in line with the defense acquisition reform act Mr. Obama signed into law last year.

It logically follows that a bipartisan Congress has agreed, supporting funding for the continued development of the General Electric/Rolls-Royce JSF engine for the past 15 years.

So why the contradiction by the president and defense secretary? They claim it will save money, and yet, what the independent review emphasizes - and our experience shows - is that the outcome will be entirely the opposite.

For the JSF, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) predicts that having two engine manufacturers compete could save taxpayers $20 billion - hardly an insignificant sum. What the dual-source program also would ensure would be that our nation’s warriors would be outfitted with the equipment they need and when they need it.

In short, the presence of two manufacturers competing against each other places our servicemen and -women and the Defense Department in the driver’s seat.

We know this because we flew fighter planes in an age when there was only one engine contractor for those aircraft, and we witnessed firsthand the impact on quality, maintainability, readiness and safety. The engine that was used to propel the F-15s and F-16s had serious flaws that left planes grounded for lengthy periods of time. It was for this reason that the department moved to a dual-source program. Since then, the improvements in quality, performance and cost have been marked.

Today, we cannot sit by and watch history repeat itself to the detriment of the men and women currently serving - particularly when the current engine for the JSF is underperforming and over budget, according to reports from the GAO. A competing engine to this status is critical.

Given the strains on our military and our nation’s record-high deficits, the responsible action now is to examine every way to provide our military men and women with the best equipment while getting the most from taxpayer dollars. It’s time to end the contradictions and start competing to save taxpayer dollars and ensure our airmen have the tools they need to continue protecting our national security.

Gens. David Brubaker, Paul Hester, Charles Horner, William Looney and Gregory Martin are retired commanders of the U.S. Air Force and consult for the aerospace industry, including GE Aviation.