JSF Dueling Engines Continue Duel As Defense Issues Stop Work Order

by: Matthew Potter
March 25, 2011

Category: Editorial | RSS 2.0

The ongoing struggle over the alternate F136 engine for the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) between the Department of Defense and General Electric (GE), Rolls-Royce (RR:LSE) and their Congressional supporters took another twist with DoD sending a stop work order effective for 90 days. Because there never was a FY11 budget passed work could continue under the multiple Continuing Resolution Authority (CRA) passed by Congress.

Long a target of DoD and the U.S. Air Force the F136 has survived as competition to Pratt & Whitney’s, a United Technologies (UTX) company, F135 primary engine through the largesse of Congressional adds and direction. Seen to some as a prime example of waste and duplication both the Bush and Obama administrations tried to end the program by not requesting funding only to see Congress add money back into the defense budget for the system.

Supporters argue that it is a necessary risk reduction for the F35 program to build several thousand new fighters for the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps and several allied countries. Pointing to the struggles of the development of the advanced aircraft overall some say that a second engine minimizes some risks in development of the F135 and offering a second source provides competition to drive down costs as engines are ordered to support the full production of the aircraft.

In the past similar attempts to halt the second engine program have failed as ultimately Congress leaves funding in although right now the version of the Defense budget proposed by both the House and Senate does not include that funding. GE is so confident that funding will ultimately be received that it is paying itself for work to continue during the 90 day period.

Supporters of the F136 also always complain that ending the program will cost high quality jobs during a recession. GE is doing a great deal of work at their Lynn, MA plant and within hours stories were appearing in the local press with the Mayor of Lynn stating that the decision was “blow to GE, the workers and the city of Lynn.” This quote from a story in the Boston Herald about Senator Kerry (D-MA) immediately sending a letter to the Defense Department saying that the decision undercut Congress’ authority on the budget even though right now Congress won’t continue funding the program.

That does not mean GE is out of engine work. They just received a contract to build engines for the latest batch of F/A-18 and EF-18 aircraft ordered by the Navy. That is a $247 million effort and much of the work will be done in Lynn. Although as the JSF ramps up its program production of the F/A-18 for use by the United States will end.

The second engine for the JSF and the continued production of the Boeing (BA) C-17 transport were the two most recent illustrations of where Congress continued programs through annual earmarks against the request of the Executive Branch. That did not mean the extra aircraft could not be used it just was not a priority for the service. It may end up that the few billion dollars spent on the F136 may provide benefit to the JSF program and U.S. military capability but it also may join a long list of programs ended before fruition due to budget pressures and decisions.

Photo from nordicdesign’s flickr photostream.

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