Tension rises over fighter engine

Senior lawmakers on Tuesday questioned the Pentagon’s decision to oppose funding a backup engine for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

Rep. Adam SmithDavid (Adam) Adam SmithTop Armed Services Dem hits Trump on military budget Pentagon budget euphoria could be short-lived Top admiral: North Korea wants to reunify peninsula, not protect rule MORE (D-Wash.), who recently took over the chairmanship of the House Armed Services Air and Land subcommittee, said he is “puzzled” about the Pentagon not requesting funding for the alternate engine made by General Electric and Rolls-Royce. Pratt & Whitney is the primary contractor for the F-35 engine.


Additionally, Smith said that he is “really puzzled” over Defense Secretary Robert Gates’s threat to recommend that the president veto the defense bills this year if they contain funds for the alternate engine.

 Previous Air and Land Chairman Neil Abercrombie (D-Hawaii) was one of the strongest supporters of the alternate engine and was instrumental in advocating for authorizing funding for the GE and Rolls-Royce engine. Abercrombie retired from Congress on Tuesday to run for governor of Hawaii.

 Now Smith has begun prodding the Pentagon for its rationale behind opposing the production of the alternate engine, and quizzed Air Force leaders on Tuesday as to why they are “so adamantly opposed” to the alternate engine after the Pentagon for almost a decade supported its development, and only started opposing it over the last several years.

 Smith is not alone. House Armed Service Committee Chairman Ike Skelton (D-Mo.) expressed concern with the Pentagon’s decision once more not to request funds for the GE-Rolls-Royce engine.

 “We have long funded the development of an alternate engine for the Joint Strike Fighter as an insurance policy for our national security. Twenty-five years from now, the F-35 will comprise 95 percent of all U.S. fighter aircraft,” Skelton said in his opening statement.

 “It seems to me, then, that relying simply on one engine means accepting a potential single source of failure. The secretary of Defense promised us, starting on Feb. 1, that he would provide us the analysis on which this year’s decision was made. We have still not received this analysis and remain deeply concerned about receiving it quickly.”

 Another stalwart supporter of the alternate engine, Sen. Carl LevinCarl Milton LevinSen. Gillibrand, eyeing 2020 bid, rankles some Democrats The Hill's 12:30 Report Congress needs bipartisanship to fully investigate Russian influence MORE (D-Mich.), earlier this month expressed his opposition to the Pentagon’s decision to scrap funding for the engine.

 “I’m disappointed, Secretary Gates, that you have announced that you will recommend a veto if the defense bills include funding for the F-35 alternate engine,” Levin, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said during a hearing after the Pentagon rolled out its budget request.

 Both Air Force Secretary Michael Donley and Air Force Chief of Staff Norton Schwartz vigorously defended the decision to go with only the Pratt & Whitney engine. Schwartz called it a “manageable risk” to go with the primary engine. He pointed out that the F-22 Raptor fighter jets also rely on one engine.

 The Pentagon also has some strong backing in the Senate for its decision to go with the primary engine, particularly from the Connecticut delegation (Pratt & Whitney is based in that state). Last year, Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) received backing from Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainLawmakers worry about rise of fake video technology Democrats put Dreamers and their party in danger by playing hardball Trump set a good defense budget, but here is how to make it better MORE (R-Ariz.), to strike funding for the alternate engine in the 2010 defense authorization bill. Sens. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsOvernight Tech: Judge blocks AT&T request for DOJ communications | Facebook VP apologizes for tweets about Mueller probe | Tech wants Treasury to fight EU tax proposal Overnight Regulation: Trump to take steps to ban bump stocks | Trump eases rules on insurance sold outside of ObamaCare | FCC to officially rescind net neutrality Thursday | Obama EPA chief: Reg rollback won't stand FCC to officially rescind net neutrality rules on Thursday MORE (R-Maine), Jack ReedJohn (Jack) Raymond ReedFBI chief: Trump hasn't specifically directed me to stop Russian meddling in midterms Live coverage: FBI director testifies to Senate Intelligence Committee Senate Dems demand answers on cost of Trump's military parade proposal MORE (D-R.I.), James InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeOvernight Defense: First Gitmo transfer under Trump could happen 'soon' | White House says Trump has confidence in VA chief | Russia concedes 'dozens' of civilians injured in Syria clash Pentagon budget euphoria could be short-lived House passes deal to end shutdown MORE (R-Okla.), Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), John CornynJohn CornynLawmakers feel pressure on guns Kasich’s campaign website tones down gun language after Florida shooting Murphy: Trump’s support for background check bill shows gun politics ‘shifting rapidly’ MORE (R-Texas) and Jeanne ShaheenCynthia (Jeanne) Jeanne ShaheenOvernight Defense: VA chief won't resign | Dem wants probe into VA hacking claim | Trump official denies plan for 'bloody nose' N. Korea strike | General '100 percent' confident in US missile defense Trump official denies US planning 'bloody nose' strike on North Korea House Oversight Committee opens probe into sexual abuse of gymnasts MORE (D-N.H.) also signed on as co-sponsors.

 Ultimately, GE-Rolls-Royce and the congressional supporters of the alternate engine scored a major victory in the 2010 defense bills by securing $465 million for the engine. This year, once again they are readying for another vicious fight.

 Critics of the Pentagon’s decision argue that having a single engine producer for the entire fleet could be too risky and make the fighters less reliable. Leading defense authorizers and appropriators in the Senate and House, including the late Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.) and Levin, have made the case over the years for granting funds to makers of both engines in an effort to save money down the line.

The “engine wars” started after several fiascos with the F-15 and F-16 fighter jets, which relied on one engine. As a consequence, Congress started an alternative fighter-engine program that provided funding for rival companies to produce engines for the same planes. One company receives a certain percentage of the engine contract, the other the rest.