By John T. Bennett - 02/16/11 03:55 PM EST
Defense Secretary Robert Gates on Wednesday called on lawmakers to end a second F-35 engine program whose completion would “waste” $3 billion.
During a House Armed Services Committee hearing, Gates also sent a strong signal he will retire this year, noting "this will be my fifth and final" appearance before the panel to defend a budget request.
Gates's comment suggests a new defense secretary will be in place next February when the Pentagon sends its 2013 spending plan to Capitol Hill.
The secretary also used his opening remarks to deliver another blow to a program to design a second engine for the F-35 fighter. Pentagon officials — and two administrations — have for years tried ending the alternate engine, being built by Rolls-Royce and General Electric. Officials say it is too costly and not needed because the primary power plant, being developed by Pratt & Whitney, is sound.
Gates on Wednesday called the second engine "unnecessary and extravagant." The secretary said it costs "$28 million a month" and completing it would "waste $3 billion." The nation's fiscal situation makes that unaffordable, DoD brass say.
It was the second time in as many public appearances that Gates has called on lawmakers to end the project.
As he spoke about the second engine, several new Republican members of the panel listened intently.
When Gates delivered the "$3 billion" remark, several new members appeared to jot down that figure.
All eyes are on new members when it comes to the fate of that project and a list of other defense spending issues.
House Budget Committee Chairman Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) on Wednesday said he wants the second engine canceled, providing a powerful voice to opponents of the project.
The full House on Wednesday is expected to vote on an amendment to a 2011 continuing resolution that would strip funding now in that measure for the alternate power plant.
House sources expect a close outcome.
One Rolls-GE source told The Hill on Wednesday "that is a fair assessment."
Panel member Rep. Roscoe Bartlett questioned whether the Pentagon violated the law by directly lobbying lawmakers on the engine fight.
Bartlett charged "two papers were circulated" in recent days on the Hill that contained allegations about the Rolls-GE engine. The documents were unsigned and undated, but contained a stamp saying they were "prepared by the Department of Defense," Bartlett said.
Bartlett said the documents falsely state the second engine is as much as three years behind schedule.
The alternate program was "started after the primary engine," Bartlett said, noting the Pratt engine is years behind due to technical issues.
"Had they been started at the same time," the development schedules would be very close to one another, Bartlett said.
The alleged DoD-produced papers were not supplied to the Armed Services Committee, Bartlett said.
A House aide verified that charge to The Hill, adding: "It's probably because we're educated on the program."
Gates said he has no knowledge of the alleged documents, but asked to review them. Committee aides immediately provided copies to the secretary's staff.
This post was updated at 11:16 a.m.