F-35 engine makers invoke defict reduction as lobbying tactic


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Above that text is a half-page image of a page from a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report on the F136 engine program, with a key line highlighted in deep yellow: "Total savings of about 21 percent in overall life cycle costs."

At the bottom is the GE-Rolls sales pitch, featuring words like "ballooning deficits," "competition" and "monopoly."

"In an era of ballooning deficits, competition from the GE/Rolls-Royce F136 engine can help rein in spending on America's largest defense program," the ad reads. "Why hand a 30-year, $100 billion monopoly to a contractor that is already $3.5 billion over budget? That just doesn't make sense, especially when the F136 engine performs better and costs less to build, buy and maintain."

Washington's deficit is projected to hit $1.5 trillion this year.

Alternate-engine proponents say it will save money in the long run, while also providing an operational safety net should the F-35’s primary power plant, being developed by Pratt & Whitney, suffer a problem that grounds the entire U.S. fleet. Three military services plan to buy more than 2,500 F-35s. 

Pratt & Whitney, as it turns out, has its own ad in the Post, saying its F135 engine — the F-35's primary power plant — is "proven" and "reliable."

Pratt's ad tells readers its latest contract with the Pentagon "offers a 16 [percent] cost savings," adding "taxpayers don't want to add $3 billion to the deficit with wasteful spending on an extra engine."

Pratt has its own message for lawmakers: "Stop funding for the extra engine earmark now."

The Pratt ad states its engine has "achieved nearly 700 flights, 1,000 flight hours and more than 21,000 ground test hours." The F135 is the "only engine powering the F-35" right now, it continues.

The House last month voted to strip funding for the second engine from its version of a government-wide 2011 continuing resolution. Senate appropriators have said they will follow suit in whatever version of 2011 stopgap or defense spending legislation they send to the chamber floor in coming weeks.

In the ad, GE and Rolls-Royce have a message for lawmakers: "Legislating a sole-source contract isn't the answer. Competition is."

Because work on the alternate engine is done in Ohio, the home state of GOP House Speaker John Boehner, the program has become a political hot potato.

The Pentagon estimates that ending the second-engine effort will save $3 billion.

Pentagon officials — and Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama — have for years opted against funding the second power plant program, only to see Congress plus up the defense budget to keep it going.

Outgoing Defense Secretary Robert Gates has told Congress it costs "$28 million a month" and completing it would "waste $3 billion." The nation's fiscal situation makes that unaffordable, DOD says. 



This post was updated at 8:33 a.m.