In little-noticed move, Rep. Dicks votes against second strike fighter engine

In a little-noticed move that could complicate the fate of a second F-35 Joint Strike Fighter engine, the House’s top defense appropriator voted to strike funding for it from the 2011 defense authorization bill.

Rep. Norm Dicks (D-Wash.) – who had closely held his position on whether Congress should continue funding a second engine made by General Electric and Rolls Royce – voted Thursday night in favor of ridding $485 million for it.

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Dicks’ position indicates that a key vote will be lost when his defense subcommittee takes up the defense appropriations bill. The previous chairman, the late Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.), was a steadfast supporter of two Joint Strike Fighter engines, but Dicks earlier this year suggested he would hear both sides before taking one himself.

“He did several briefings and put some time in thinking about this issue,” said George Behan, Dicks’ chief of staff and communications director. “He made an effort to put all the pieces together and made a personal judgment.”

Behan said that the administration’s veto threat influenced Dicks’s decision, as did Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ case about the extra engine’s costs and the fact that most fighter jet fleets do not have two.

“It seemed that this was an appropriate course,” Behan said.

Pratt & Whitney builds the primary F-35 engine. The Connecticut-based company has fiercely lobbied to remain the sole engine-maker for the large fighter jet program.

Without the chairman of the powerful defense subcommittee supporting the project, it could be hard – but not impossible – to add funding for the engine, which the Pentagon does not want. Apart from Rep. Kay Granger (R-Texas), the rest of the defense subpanel voted in favor of keeping the GE-Rolls Royce engine, and the engine could prevail once the bill moves to be considered by the whole appropriations committee.


Rep. David Obey (D-Wis.), the Appropriations Committee chairman, on Thursday voted to strike the engine funding.

Without the Appropriations Committee including the funding to continue development of the GE-Rolls, however, supporters could face the nearly impossible feat of bringing the additional funding to a floor vote. Without House appropriators funding the second engine, its fate could be in danger because the Senate is expected to have enough votes to strike any funding for it.

Senate Appropriations Chairman Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) did not fund the engine last year for that reason. But, with Murtha’s help, the funding was restored in conference and made it into the 2010 defense-spending bill.

Behan cautioned that the committee may not have the option to include any funding for GE-Rolls Royce if President Barack Obama follows through with a veto of the final defense authorization bill.


Obama on Friday issued a direct veto threat over the F-35 engine funding.