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Materials Needs and R&D Strategy for Future Military Aerospace Propulsion Systems
3.5 GLOBAL COMPETITIVENESS
3.5.1 The Committee’s Approach to Assessment
The U.S. military and industry have been successful over the past 60 years in maintaining the military superiority and commercial competitiveness of aerospace systems, with few exceptions. Propulsion systems technologies have contributed heavily to this position, and the committee has reviewed on a comparative basis both the programmatic and investment strategies that have contributed to these advantages. Much of the past history is highly anecdotal and is subject to various interpretations; therefore the committee has made some observations based on experience, but it has relied largely on published information in making an assessment of the current and future U.S. global competitiveness.
The globalization of the propulsion industry with partnerships and international ownership of propulsion companies has to some degree blurred the definitions of the origin and application of some propulsion technologies. In addition, the devolution of the Soviet Union and the financial restructuring of much of its aerospace industry have changed the focus on its positioning of technology in the export market. In aviation, the export market technologies are present in potential threats to U.S. military forces, and in the case of space propulsion, rocket technologies and products have represented a commercial supplement to Western efforts in the area. The U.S. Air Force’s Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) Program is an example of the blurring of lines of origin and application of global technologies. A foreign company, Rolls-Royce, with the purchase of Allison Engine Company, obtained a partnership position on the alternative engine for that program and a direct position on the lift fan component for the short-take-off-and-vertical-landing (STOVL) version of the aircraft. These positions brought Rolls technologies to the program, with examples being superplastically formed diffusion-bonded hollow fan blades and linear friction welding of rotating components and thrust vectoring component technologies used directly in the lift fan and nozzle systems on the JSF STOVL version of the aircraft and incorporated into the joint-venture-proposed alternate engine. The inference drawn from this experience is that there are significant materials and process technologies in other countries that rival or exceed those currently available in the United States. In this case they were complementary to the other available U.S. technology for the JSF Program and provided an attractive alternative to the U.S. technologies.
The committee has taken two approaches to assessing the issue of global competitiveness: the first is a direct review of the published activities under the European Union (EU) initiative—an example being EU status reports on Euro-