General Electric has vowed to press forward on a controversial jet fighter engine that the Pentagon does not want because the engine made by a competing manufacturer is "disastrous" and does not work, claims a GE spokesman.
The Pentagon issued a stop work order for GE's engine Thursday, calling it "a waste of taxpayer money." Pratt and Whitney is already developing an engine for the Joint Strike Fighter, and both President Obama and Defense Secretary Gates have said they do not want work to continue on GE's engine, which was commissioned as an alternate.
But Rick Kennedy of GE said his company will keep working on the engine using its own funds because it is confident it has a better product. In a voicemail to ABC News, Kennedy claims that four years into a flight test program, "the lead engine from Pratt Whitney cannot fly the full flight envelope. It has $3.5 billion in cost overruns and every single f*****g engine delivered this year has been late."
After the Pentagon ordered work to stop, Sen. John Kerry, D.-Massachusetts, Sen. Sherrod Brown, D.-Ohio, and Rep. Buck McKeon, R.-California, chair of the House Armed Services Committee, issued statements criticizing the decision and supporting continued development of GE's engine. The engine is being built at an Ohio plant that employs about 1,000 workers, but Kennedy says the company has the continued support of McKeon and other lawmakers who "have no jobs at stake" but are alarmed at Pratt-Whitney's "disastrous" development program.
"We wouldn't even be in the game with this thing if it wasn't for their performance," said Kennedy. Kennedy says GE will self-fund development of the engine until Congress resolves the fiscal year 2011 budget in later this year. He estimated that costs for self-funding would be less than $500,000 per day, but said he expected the budget to be resolved by April 8.
Hugh Risseeuw, director of Navy & Marine Corps programs at Pratt and Whitney, said the company was "pleased" with the Pentagon's decision to stop work on the GE engine. "We feel we have earned this business fair and square," said Risseeuw. "We support the decision of the President and the Secretary of Defense."
Risseeuw disputed Kennedy's assertions that the Pratt and Whitney engine is not functioning properly, can't fly the full flight envelope – meaning can't meet performance expectations in the air – and has had $3.5 billion in cost overruns.
"There is cost growth because of 'new scope' and there is cost growth because of overrun," said Risseeuw. "We acknowledge $808 million in overrun." Risseeuw said he believes GE is adding in costs associated with "new scope," meaning new work requested by the government. For example, said Risseeuw, Pratt Whitney had to do more than $1 billion in additional development because the jet itself, once built, was heavier than planned.
Of the $808 million in actual overrun, said Risseeuw, $250 million comes from subcontractor Rolls Royce, which is also partnered with GE on the alternate engine. "You see the irony," said Risseeuw.
Risseeuw said a problem with engine noise --"screech" -- had been solved, and said that the engine will now be able to complete the full flight envelope.