Competing Desires

For the fourth consecutive year, Congress is acting against the Pentagon’s plan to halt development of the General Electric-Rolls Royce F136 engine for the F-35 fighter. Last week, the House Armed Services Committee’s airland panel earmarked $603 million for the F136, the so-called competing powerplant to Pratt & Whitney’s F135, in its markup of the Defense Department’s Fiscal 2010 budget request. Along with this move, the panel cut one Air Force F-35A and one Marine Corps F-35B from the Pentagon’s proposed Fiscal 2010 buy, reducing the number of aircraft overall from 30 to 28. Rep. Neil Abercrombie, panel chairman, wrote in his June 12 markup statement that being tied to one engine for the F-35, which is expected to constitute 80 percent to 90 percent of the future US fighter force, is “too high an operational risk to take.” To add some teeth to its wishes, the panel included language that would limit the obligation of F-35 funds to just 75 percent of what is authorized until the funds for the F136 have been obligated and the Office of the Secretary of Defense has submitted the 30-year F-35 aircraft build plan mandated by Congress last year. It would also require DOD to budget for the F136 beginning in its Fiscal 2011 budget proposal instead of continuing to come before Congress with no money programmed for it. (For more on the F-35 engine debate, read Thinking About an Engine War from the June issue of Air Force Magazine.)