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This article was Originally Published on Oct 08, 2006 in Volume: 5  Issue: 2

F136 Engine Critical for JSF Success

The Joint Strike Fighter program is a critical part of the future of America’s national defense. It is shortsighted to think that cutting the second source engine program, the F136, is a cost-saving measure.

By Sen. Mike DeWine (R-Ohio)

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The Joint Strike Fighter program is a critical part of the future of America’s national defense. The program will be the largest aircraft procurement program in the history of the Department of Defense. This multi-role, single-engine tactical aircraft will be used by our Air Force, Navy, Marines and several international partners, including the United Kingdom, ultimately replacing the F-16, A-10, F-18 and AV-8B aircraft.

The F136 alternate engine, a partnership between General Electric and Rolls-Royce, will compete with the F135 engine being developed by Pratt and Whitney to power the Joint Strike Fighter. For the past decade, Congress and the Department of Defense have supported competition through an alternate engine program. To date, approximately $1.3 billion has been appropriated to support the development of the F136 alternate engine, and in August of 2005, the Defense Department awarded the General Electric/Rolls-Royce team a $2.4-billion contract to complete the development of the F136 engine.

In a major departure from recent history, the Department of Defense proposed the cancellation of the Joint Strike Fighter’s F136 alternate engine program in the FY07 budget. This action, if approved by Congress, would result in Pratt and Whitney receiving a sole-source contract that could be worth over $100 billion over the life of the Joint Strike Fighter program. This issue has been a matter of serious discussion in the House and Senate consideration of this year’s defense budget request.

The proposal to cancel the alternate engine program greatly troubles me for several reasons. First, terminating the F136 engine program and the engine competition for the Joint Strike Fighter will hurt our nation’s defense industrial base. Without the F136, General Electric will be unable to sustain the unique capabilities needed to design, develop, test and produce high-performance fighter engines for future combat aircraft systems, which may put our national security at risk as other nations develop new technology. Second, the military will not realize all the traditional benefits that come from competition: lower risk, better performance, higher readiness, more technology infusion, enhanced contractor responsiveness and reduced costs of ownership.

For more than 90 years, General Electric has been a leader in aircraft engine design and construction. The F136 program presently provides 800 high-quality jobs in the Cincinnati, Ohio, area, including 500 at General Electric in Evendale. If the second source contract is terminated, General Electric will be forced to exit the fighter engine arena. This will leave the Department of Defense with only one source that it must rely on for all its future fighter engine needs. This is not sound business. I firmly believe the termination of the contract and General Electric’s departure from the fighter engine arena would be a severe loss to Ohio and to the future of our national defense.

Eliminating the second source engine for the Joint Strike Fighter also ultimately could lead to a reduction in overall engine quality and non-competitive pricing. Since the U.S. military will be relying on this aircraft well into the future, it is critical to our military and to the safety of our military personnel that we strive for the highest quality engines possible. History proves that dual-source competition produces a better, safer, more reliable and less expensive product. Finally, if we cancel the contract, all of the benefits from the money that American taxpayers have invested so far will be lost.

With the General Electric/Rolls-Royce F136 engine available to compete with the Pratt & Whitney F135 engine, the military engine industrial base will remain robust, resilient and capable of responding in a competitive way to all current and future requirements. Without the F136 engine, General Electric’s highly skilled team will be disbanded, $1.3 billion will have been wasted, and the nation will be captive to a single supplier of high-performance fighter engines with all the attendant issues and problems associated with monopolies.

It is shortsighted to think that cutting the second-source engine program is a cost-saving measure. Competition through a second engine source will save money in the long run. The revenues associated with the procurement of new engines and spares for the Joint Strike Fighter will be huge—more than enough to sustain vigorous head-to-head competition throughout the life of the program. A modest assumed savings benefit of only 10 percent from competition would produce savings on the order of $10 billion, more than enough to offset the remaining F136 engine-development costs.

In the past couple of months, both the House and Senate Armed Services committees have held hearings on the Joint Strike Fighter alternate engine. I was pleased that the well-balanced panels included representatives from the United Kingdom and all of the industry partners, including Scott Donnelly of General Electric and James Guyette of Rolls-Royce. These hearings highlighted the importance of competition in promoting quality and cost savings. It was also an opportunity to reaffirm the lessons from the Great Engine War, which was presided over by then-Secretary of the Navy and current Senator John Warner. Senator Warner has been a true champion for the competitive engine program because he understands how such a program benefits the warfighter and the taxpayer.

As a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, I have been engaged in restoring the F136 program since the day this issue came up with the release of the FY07 budget. I immediately spoke with Senator Warner, expressing my concerns about the Department of Defense’s shortsighted decision, as well as its decision to not spend the funds approved in the FY06 defense appropriations bill. Together with fellow Ohio Senator George Voinovich, we sent Senator Warner a letter requesting support for the continuation of the program with the FY06 funds that were already signed into law. I also have met with leaders from General Electric about the impact of this decision on my constituents in Ohio and on the safety and readiness of the warfighter as the Joint Strike Fighter joins our air inventory. My staff and I will continue to engage members of the Armed Services Committee and my other Senate colleagues to promote the critical benefits of a two-engine program.

Due to recent activity in the House of Representatives, I am very encouraged that the development of the F136 Joint Strike Fighter alternate engine will continue in FY07. The House Armed Services Tactical Air and Land Forces Subcommittee made a clear statement to the Department of Defense that work of the F136 must carry on by authorizing $408 million for the program. I am optimistic that the Senate Armed Services Committee will include a similar provision when it marks up its version of the 2007 Defense Authorization bill this month. As a U.S. senator concerned about the safety of all Americans, I will continue to do what is necessary to see that the F136 remains a fully funded program. This is the very least we can do to ensure the health of the only fighter program in development today.

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