F136 Passes Major Review:

As Congress gears for what is seemingly becoming an annual ritual: deciding the fate of the F-35’s F136 engine program, the General Electric/Rolls-Royce consortium developing the powerplant announced last week that it has successfully completed the engine’s critical design review, a significant milestone that moves the program closer to production. The F136 is the competing engine to Pratt & Whitney’s F135 in the F-35 program. The Pentagon did not request funding for the F136 in its Fiscal 2009 budget request, just as it did not in the two previous fiscal years, citing more pressing priorities and confidence in the progress of the F135. This places the F136 again in the hands of the Congress, which has continued to mandate funding for it. While a study issued earlier this month by the Lexington Institute supports the DOD’s one-engine approach, arguing that there is no budgetary, performance, safety, or industrial base need to maintain two F-35 engine suppliers, influential voices of support emerged last week for the F136. According to press reports, Rep. Neil Abercrombie (D-Hawaii), chairman of the House Armed Services subcommittee on AirLand programs, told reporters Feb. 13 that it is “prudent” to keep the F136 program going in case there is a snafu with the F135, which incidentally did hit a snag recently. Air Force Secretary Michael Wynne also weighed in last week, telling reporters that maintaining the F136 makes sense because, like life insurance, you hope that you never need it, but each year you keep buying it. GE and Rolls-Royce say they are on track to deliver the first production-configuration F136 “within a year,” leading to the first flight in the F-35 in 2010, if the program survives in its current form.