Gates: Obama would veto defense authorization bill over F-35 engine

Defense Secretary Robert Gates on Thursday expressed confidence that President Barack Obama would veto the defense authorization bill over a backup engine for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

Gates has repeatedly said, including in congressional testimony, that he would strongly recommend the president veto any defense bills that continue the development of the secondary F-35 engine, made by General Electric and Britain's Rolls Royce.

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"I obviously did not issue the statement that I did in my testimony on the Hill without talking with the president first," Gates said during a Pentagon conference Thursday. "I try not to climb too far out on a limb without knowing nobody is back there with a saw."

House defense authorizers on Wednesday greenlit another $485 million for the development of the GE-Rolls Royce engine that the Pentagon and White House do not want.

If the final House version of the 2011 defense authorization bill maintains the secondary engine funds it would be the first step in what is likely to be a months-long standoff between the Obama administration and Congress.

But Gates indicated that Obama would follow through on the veto recommendation.

"We will have to see at the time if the decision has to be made, but he [Obama] was fully aware that I was going to make that statement, and frankly I think that if he were not prepared to substantiate that he probably would have waved me off at the time," Gates said.

The House could take up the authorization bill as early as next week. The Senate Armed Services Committee has yet to write its version of the bill. Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) strongly supports the second engine, but faces opposition from Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the ranking member, and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.). Pratt & Whitney, the primary engine-maker, is based in Lieberman's state and the company has lobbied for years to remain the sole engine-maker for the newest fighter jet.

Gates said on Thursday he was also very concerned about detailed conditions House defense authorizers placed on the F-35 program, which is designed to replace older fighter jets for the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps. Those "detailed conditions" would make the F-35 program "essentially unexecutable," Gates said.