Senate panel excludes funding for secondary strike fighter engine

The Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday decided to leave out additional funding for a secondary F-35 Joint Strike Fighter engine.

General Electric and Rolls Royce are building the secondary engine for the new fighter jet. Pratt & Whitney builds the primary engine and has been locked in an intense lobbying and public relations battle to see the secondary engine scrapped.

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The Senate committee’s exclusion of funding authorization for the second engine is a partial victory for the White House and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, who has threatened to recommend a veto over the engine. The House Armed Services Committee included $485 million for the GE-Rolls Royce engine and at press time the House was scheduled to vote on an amendment seeking to scrap the funding from the House’s 2011 defense authorization bill.

The Senate Armed Services chairman, Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), is a strong supporter of having two engines for the large fighter jet fleet, but already hinted this week that he would not take up the fight for the second engine in his committee because the Senate could end up stripping the funding on the floor. The Senate stripped funding for the second engine last year.

Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), in whose state Pratt & Whitney builds the fighter jet engine, hailed the decision not to add funding to the defense authorization bill.

“This is a great victory for both American taxpayers and the aviators, airmen, and Marines who will soon fly the Joint Strike Fighter into combat,” Lieberman said. “The Department of Defense has long said that it neither wants nor intends to use an alternate engine, and I applaud my colleagues for supporting the president and canceling this wasteful program.”

The Senate panel also adopted a provision that would prevent any funds from being spent on the alternate engine unless the secretary of Defense certifies that it would reduce the total life cycle costs of the Joint Strike Fighter program and improve the operational readiness of the F-35 fleet.