When we send our troops into battle, we need to make sure that we’re sending them in with the right equipment for the mission. That means equipment that is well-designed, well-made and which has been thoroughly tested in real-world conditions for the mission at hand. This need grows out of the solemn contract we have with our service members — the understanding that when we send them into harm’s way, we’re doing it for the right reasons and with the tools they need to succeed.
It’s this desire that has me concerned with a move the U.S. Army recently made. For several years now, the Army has been overseeing a competition between General Electric and the Advanced Turbine Engine Company — a joint venture between Honeywell and Pratt & Whitney — for a new engine to power its fleet of Apache and Black Hawk helicopters.
These helicopters regularly fly in high-heat, high-altitude environments, and the current engine isn’t meeting future Army performance requirements. The new engine is likely to become the standard for the next generation of Army helicopters — meaning this is a decision that the Army will need to live with for the next half century or more.
In February, the Army announced that it had chosen GE’s proposed engine to take it into a phase of the process called engineering and manufacturing development. This selection was based on written proposals. There’s one big problem: No actual prototypes of either the GE or ATEC engines were ever built, switched on and observed in operation.
As a Marine Corps combat veteran who served in Iraq, I know firsthand what faulty equipment can mean to a mission. I watched my friends and fellow Marines die in what I believe to have been fully preventable situations because we were given insufficient or outdated equipment.
When we send our troops into battle, we have a responsibility to make sure that they’re given the best equipment. How can we be sure that the Army’s helicopter for the next 50 years or more is powered by the best, most cost-effective and safest engine option, if neither option has even been built, let alone thoroughly tested?
I don’t think the Army should be making a commitment like this based on a paper proposal.
Congress needs to provide the funding to have both engine prototypes developed and tested. Then, and only then, can the Army move ahead with confidence that it has chosen the engine that will be the safest for our troops, the best for our military and the most cost-effective for taxpayers.
Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Ariz., serves on the House Armed Service Committee. He previously served in the Marine Corps in Iraq with the combat unit Lima 3/25.
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