General Electric and Rolls Royce have decided to stop the development of an alternate engine for the next-generation F-35 stealth fighter -- an engine the military repeatedly said it didn't need -- closing the doors on a program that cost taxpayers $3 billion and the companies "tens of millions," the companies said today.
The two major corporations, which had created a joint company specifically for the F136 engine program, decided to pull the plug because of the ever-changing production schedule of the F-35, GE spokesperson Rick Kennedy told ABC News.
"The [F-35] development schedules are changing," Kennedy said. "When you're self-funding, it's hard to put millions of millions of dollars into the program when you don't know when the engine has to be ready."
The decision, first reported by Aviation Week, also followed an Oct. 31 meeting between company executives and Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter in which Carter made it clear the Pentagon was going to maintain its decision not to help fund the engine's development, Kennedy said.
The F-35, one of the world's most sophisticated and complex fighter planes, has suffered numerous delays over its tumultuous and costly development, including an announcement last month by Air Force Maj. Gen. Jay Lindell that developmental tests could be pushed back by two years.
But the alternate engine program has courted criticism of its own from both the highest levels of the military and the White House, where senior officials called it a "waste of taxpayer money."
The U.S. government initially poured $3 billion into the alternate engine program, , even though the fighter already had an engine made by Pratt-Whitney, before finally cancelling funding in March. The alternate engine was costing taxpayers an estimated $1 million per day, according to the Department of Defense.
Still, GE and Rolls Royce pressed on and announced they would self-fund the development of the engine. The companies maintained competition for the fighter engine contract was beneficial to the military.
Weeks later, Obama administration officials told ABC News the president would veto the 2012 defense authorization bill if it included language that would extend the life of the alternate engine program.
The latest public version of the defense authorization bill from the U.S. Senate does allow the use of government resources for F136 testing by contractors who are self-funding their research, but Kennedy said the bill had no effect on GE and Rolls Royce's decision to kill the F136 program.
"We looked at the uncertainty of the development and production schedule of the Joint Strike Fighter program and all the uncertainty surrounding that schedule makes it impossible to do your own self-funding," he said.
A military official with the F-35 program told ABC News GE and Rolls Royce's decision to cancel to F136 engine would not affect the stealth fighter's development.