Obama Administration Tries Again to Kill Zombie Jet Engine

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Administration officials say President Obama will veto the defense authorization bill if Congress does not remove language that would extend the life of the controversial second engine for the Joint Strike Fighter.

The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter already has a primary engine that is being developed by Pratt Whitney, and both President Obama and Defense Secretary Robert Gates have said they do not want work to continue on the alternate engine that GE and Rolls Royce have been developing. The Pentagon has issued a stop work order for the GE engine and officially stopped payment. "The Department of Defense today notified the General Electric/Rolls Royce Fighter Engine Team and the Congress that the F136 Joint Strike Fighter engine contract has been terminated," a Defense Department release said in April. "The stop work order ended the expenditure of $1 million per day on an extra engine that the [Pentagon] has assessed as unneeded and wasteful."

But the engine, which has survived for years with the backing of powerful Congressional leaders and a push from a brigade of lobbyists, is not dead yet. The House Armed Services Committee's version of the defense authorization bill would force the Pentagon to allow GE to keep developing and testing the second engine as long as the development is self-funded. After the Pentagon issued a stop work order for the engine in March, calling it "a waste of taxpayer money," GE vowed to continue work on the engine using its own funds.

"If the final bill presented to the president includes funding or a legislative direction to continue an extra engine program," said the White House Office of Management and Budget in a statement, "the president' s senior advisors would recommend a veto."

President Obama has ordered the Defense Department to cut $400 billion in projected spending growth between now and the middle of next decade. The F-35 is among the Pentagon's largest budget items, with the cost of operating 2,400 of the jets for 50 years estimated at $1 trillion, and the cost of building each of the planes at $133 million per aircraft.

But the House Armed Services Committee, in addition to seeking to prolong the life of the Joint Strike Fighter's alternate engine, also wants to develop two engines for another aircraft, a long-range bomber. In a May letter to the Committee, a top Pentagon official said that "mandating such development will result in increased cost and risk."

"Moreover," wrote Undersecretary of Defense Ashton Carter, "the fleet size for the bomber portion of the Long Range Strike Family of Systems will be substantially less than programs such as the Joint Strike Fighter, where pursuing multiple systems proved unaffordable."

"A major tenet of the new bomber program is to maximize re-use of existing systems," said Carter. "Very realistic opportunities exist, which do not require development of a new engine."

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