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F35 Engine Fight Reignites

by Dan Barrett / /

As the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) continues through its extended developmental phase, the F-35 Alternate Engine Project once again is in the spotlight. The competition was initiated to produce the best power plant for the new plane. General Electric is still creating its version and sees a future where the F-35 has two engines to choose from. Some Congressional Members, more concerned with pork than defense, agree. The original engine company (Pratt & Whitney) and the Department of Defense are defending a single engine system – not just because it was a parameter of the competition but a practical military logistical detail.

Costs have become a chief concern even in the deficit-prone defense-sector. GE has offered a fixed-price deal to the Pentagon, citing the competition could lower costs by $20 billion over the jet's lifespan. Pratt & Whitney has already offered a fixed-price contract, which would leave excess cost with the manufacturer rather than the American taxpayer. The catch in this competition comes with differing timelines. GE requires $485 million to maintain its development program while P&W has completed its engine. GE claims the competition brings about lower long-term prices and higher quality. However, justifications go only as far as the bank. Further upfront GE costs will equal $2.9 billion and will save $1 billion over the next five years. There is little to no difference in performance in either engine.

Although competition is key to innovation, there comes a time to decide on one engine for America's next-generation air superiority craft. P&W have already developed and integrated their engine into the F-35 framework. They have also offered guarantees against cost overruns in a fully binding agreement. GE must accept its loss and cease spending millions ($25.5 million so far) on lobbying Congress for a piece of equipment the military does not need. Secretary of Defense recently said, "Study on top of study has shown that an extra [F-35] fighter engine achieves marginal potential savings but heavy upfront costs – nearly $3 billion worth." Hopefully members of Congress will resolve this issue for our service members in time to honor their sacrifice on Armed Forces Day this Saturday.