Cut joint strike fighter project still backed in Congress

May 4, 2011 at 5:19 PM
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WASHINGTON, May 4 (UPI) -- Plans for developing an alternative engine for the F-35 joint strike fighter project are still enjoying support in Congress despite the Pentagon's termination of funding for the discredited plan.

In a version of the 2012 defense authorization bill introduced in the House Armed Services subcommittee on tactical air and land forces, U.S. Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Md., and Rep. Silvestre Reyes, D-Texas, made clear they intended to continue canvassing for the alternative engine, cut down by a U.S. Defense Department funding decision last month.

Bartlett and Reyes also indicated they would try and breathe new life into another doomed project for further modernization and modifications in the Abrams tank and the Bradley Fighting Vehicle.

The Pentagon last month announced it could no longer fund General Electric's continuing work on developing the alternative engine for the F-35 as the cost was too high and the engine was no longer considered necessary. The alternative engine research is being conducted by GE and Rolls-Royce.

GE said the company would continue to drum up support for the program's continuation.

"GE and Rolls-Royce will work closely with our congressional supporters during the 2012 budget process in pursuit of incorporating the engine into the program, and preserving competition," a spokesman said.

He said there was bipartisan support for the alternative engine on the merits of its performance and value and "a significant willingness in Congress" to revisit the funding debate.

The companies say the consequences of terminating the alternative engine program aren't fully understood but the costs can be substantial. Work on developing the alternative has already cost taxpayers $3 billion, GE said.

In the meantime, GE has said it will comply with the termination notice. It is in consultation with the Pentagon on what to do with $200 million in alternative engine-related hardware, held in 17 facilities, including nine engines under various stages of assembly.

The Pentagon said it terminated the contract because it was costing $1 million a day and was judged to be no longer necessary.

U.S. President Barack Obama identified the alternative engine as a symbol of wasteful spending. Other critics in the administration and the military decried it as an unnecessary duplication of work that was already contracted to Pratt and Whitney.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates in May 2010 pointed out the project had been rejected by the previous White House.

"The Bush administration opposed this engine. The Obama administration opposes it. We have recommended for several years now against funding this engine, considering it a waste of money," Gates said. "To argue that we should add another $3 billion in what we regard as waste ... frankly, I don't track the logic."

Congressional backers of the program argued the taxpayers would benefit by having two defense contractors competing to develop propulsion systems for the fighter jet, as that could bring the price down.

But critics said there were no guarantees of savings and cited the enormous extra expense.

The Center for Responsive Politics said GE spent more on lobbying over the past decade than any other U.S. company.

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