Defense Secretary Robert Gates and President Barack Obama won a showdown vote Wednesday in the GOP-controlled House to kill a costly alternative engine for the F-35 fighter jet.
The vote was a switch from where the House stood last year under Democratic control. It reflected a sustained administration push to win over the votes of scores of Republican freshmen elected last fall on campaign promises to cut the budget.
Many taxpayer watchdog groups also weighed in against the engine program, slated to cost $3 billion over the next few years and $450 million this year alone.
Of course, as the Star-Telegram reported in 2009, this controversy is not clearly as clear cut as the politicians have made it seem. Pratt & Whitney's track record as supplier of F-16 engines and providing service was pretty poor until the Pentagon and Congress authorized a second engine by GE in the early 1980s. That story is well told in the book, "The Air Force and the Great Engine War."
Many of the old timers from the early F-16 days in and around Fort Worth remember those times as well and, in my experience, have almost universally backed GE -- then and now.
Aviation Week as you might imagine has chronicled this battle extensively. Very good post with lots of gory details here.
Of course, since politics is about, well, politics and not necessarily about what's right or best, this is being played as mostly a battle of political interests.
The 233-198 tally was a loss for House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, whose state reaps about 1,000 jobs from the engine program, built by the General Electric Co. and Rolls-Royce.
It was a big victory for lawmakers from Democrat-dominated Connecticut, where the main F-35 fighter engine is built by Pratt & Whitney, a unit of United Technologies Corp. Former President George W. Bush had also tried to kill the second engine.
Sen. Joe Lieberman, the senator from Pratt & Whitney-based Connecticut, was of course happy with the vote.
“I applaud my colleagues in the House of Representatives for their historic vote today to stand with the President, Secretary of Defense, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in terminating the F136 alternate engine,” Lieberman said. “The Senate has opposed this program for two years in a row, and I am sure that we will now join the House to end this wasteful, unnecessary program once and for all. I wish to express my particular gratitude to Rep. John Larson and Rep. Joe Courtney for their leadership in the House during the debate on this important matter.”
GEspokesman Rick Kennedy put out a statement on the vote that says in part:
While we are disappointed at the outcome, the debate to preserve competition will continue. We are very proud of the F136 development program, which is performing beyond expectations. ... Last fall, the Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee called the F136 engine a "near model program."
Without competing JSF engines, the Department of Defense will hand a 20-year, $100 billion engine monopoly to a single engine supplier. ... The independent Government Accountability Office has twice concluded that engine competition in the Joint Strike Fighter could save 21percent, or up to $20 billion, over the lifetime of the JSF program. That level of savings simply cannot be ignored in this era of great
We will continue to press the case for competition as the FY11 budget is
finalized and as the FY12 budget debate continues.