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Updated – In Blow to Rolls-Royce and GE Pentagon Axes JSF Alternate Engine

by: Matthew Potter
April 26, 2011

Category: Editorial | RSS 2.0

Updated – It is being reported that both General Electric and Rolls-Royce will continue to fight for the F136 engine program. They will engage Congress to restore funding for the alternate engine in the FY12 defense budget which is under consideration. This means at a minimum the two companies will need to fund some portion of the team and work until 1 October if they are successful. Any delays in passing a budget will require the F136 team to spend even more of their own money to keep it alive. The chances in this budget environment of keeping the program going may be few.

Following through on a matter that seemed ordained after ordering stop work on the project earlier this year the U.S. Department of Defense terminated the contract for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter’s alternate engine. In March the Pentagon directed General Electric (GE) and Rolls-Royce (RR:LSE) to halt their efforts on the F136 engine for the new aircraft as yet another move in a long running battle with Congress about this second source. The companies had intended to keep some work going using internal funds after the stop work as they hoped the program would continue with money added to the FY11 defense budget by the legislative branch.

Long a bone of contention between different Defense Secretaries, the Air Force and Congress the program had relied on earmarks and money added to the budget to keep it going. The argument for having a second engine as potential risk reduction and cost savings for the total JSF program falling on deaf ears in both the Bush and Obama Administrations.

The order today to terminate the contracts means a savings of about $400 – 500 million in this year’s budget. That was the amount the two companies hoped Congress would add to keep the development going. The decision in March was driven as much by budgetary machinations as anything as the Government waited for the full budget for 2011 to be passed. This was done two weeks or so ago which allowed the action to end the contract to be taken.

The total JSF program has seen significant cost growth and schedule slips which has overwhelmed the arguments for spending the money on a second engine. Normally the idea of a second source to provide cost pressure on the main contractor or offer the ability to cushion any delays in the development of the primary engine would make good sense but the JSF program has suffered so much increase that there just is not the money to be spared. The Pentagon could also point to the fact that two different aircraft designs participated in a contest to be chosen for the F-35 reducing some of the technical and cost risk there.

The end of the F136 represents one of the longest running fights over defense funding in the U.S. Ideally the work done by GE and Rolls-Royce will be used both by them and the government to some gain. As part of the termination all products and information generated by the F136 program must be turned over. Perhaps in the future some aircraft or engine will have been aided by the work done on the F136

Photo from I’ll Never Grow Up’s flickr photostream.

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