Second F-35 engine back on track?

The F136 engine, developed by GE and Rolls-Royce and killed by the U.S. Department and Defense and President Obama in the 2011 budget, has been revived by a U.S. House of Representatives committee which says that a second engine will increase competition.

The Associated Press (AP) reported that jet engine manufacturer GE Aviation (Cincinnati, Ohio, USA) on May 12 offered to fund continued development of the recently terminated alternate engine (dubbed F136) for the F-35 Lighting II Joint Strike Fighter through 2012.

GE has been developing the F136 engine for about 15 years, but the 2011 U.S. defense budget contained no money for the alternate engine and the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) recently issued an order to stop work on it.

The AP report notes that GE’s offer came a day after a U.S. House of Representatives panel moved toward reviving the engine over the objections of President Barack Obama and Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who have strongly opposed the program, calling it wasteful spending. Defense spokeswoman Cheryl Irwin said Thursday that the department’s position has not changed.

GE is developing the engine with Rolls-Royce. The jet’s current engine, the F135, is built by Pratt & Whitney, a unit of United Technologies Corp. GE Aviation and congressional supporters have argued that development of the alternate engine would provide competition that would eventually save taxpayer money.

The GE proposal does not hinge upon any financial commitment by the federal government in 2012 or beyond, but would require GE and Rolls-Royce to have access to the engines, components and testing facilities, GE Aviation spokesman Rick Kennedy said.

Kennedy told the AP that the proposal would involve an investment by GE Aviation of more than $100 million to continue the work through 2012. GE estimates it would need $1 billion to finish developing the engine.

The Armed Services subcommittee overseeing land and air forces on Wednesday approved legislation that would force the Pentagon to reopen competition if it has to ask Congress for more money for the Pratt & Whitney engine. That provision would apply to Pentagon spending in the next budget year.