More on the Alternate Engine Debate

A recent Congressional Research Service report by military aviation analyst Christopher Bolkcom provides full background behind the long-running F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter alternate-engine controversy between Congress and the Pentagon. We reported last week that the House’s top defense appropriator, Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.), declared that lawmakers “expect the Air Force to eventually build this alternative engine.” The Pentagon has steadfastly left funding to continue development of the General Electric F136 engine out of its budgets, and just as steadfastly Congress has put money back. (Currently the Pratt & Whitney F135 is the sole engine slated to power the F-35.) As Bolkcom notes, “The alternate engine program appears to be affected in [Pentagon] budget considerations by the fact that its benefits won’t be realized for a decade, while its costs are noteworthy, and immediate.” Still, lawmakers hearken back to the 1980s Great Engine War, which produced better engines on better terms. However, Bolkcom acknowledges that the success of the Great Engine War was due to “a considerable amount of effort and skill by Air Force leaders.” He wonders whether today’s environment or current DOD leadership “would be able to exploit the JSF Alternate Engine competition as effectively.”