Defense Dept. orders work stoppage on alternate F-35 engine program

The Pentagon on Thursday ordered GE and Rolls-Royce to halt all work on a second engine for the F-35 fighter, a project the Obama administration has singled out as wasteful pork.

The department called the program a “waste of taxpayer money that can be used to fund higher departmental priorities,” adding in a statement that it “should be ended now.”

House and Senate appropriators stripped funding for the second engine from 2011 defense spending legislation. The House also voted to cancel the project in a continuing resolution passed last month to fund the government.

The Pentagon cited the votes in Congress and the Obama administration’s opposition to the second engine project in announcing the decision.

“In light of … congressional prerogatives and the administration's view of the program ... a stop work order is now the correct course,” DoD said in a statement.

“The stop work order will remain in place pending final resolution of the program's future, for a period not to exceed 90 days, unless extended by agreement of the government and the contractor,” according to the Pentagon.

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Howard “Buck” McKeon (R-Calif.) slammed the work stoppage minutes before the Pentagon announced it.

“Regardless of the convenient arguments utilized by the Department of Defense and others, canceling the engine competition and awarding a sole-source, never-competed contract constitutes the largest earmark in the history of the Department of Defense,” McKeon said.

“In this era of fiscal responsibility, I am stunned that the [Obama] administration and the Congress would accept the argument that it is good policy to save a dollar today only to spend a thousand dollars tomorrow,” McKeon said.  

The Armed Services chairman vowed to keep fighting for the second engine.

“Going forward, we will explore all legislative options available to us to maintain engine competition in the largest acquisition program in U.S. history,” McKeon said.

GE and Rolls-Royce confirmed the stop-work order had been received.

The order will go into effect “once the current funding runs out at the end of March,” GE spokesman Rick Kennedy said in an email.

The companies are “disappointed that DoD took this unilateral action before Congress has completed its work on the fiscal year 2011 budget,” Kennedy said.

“However, we are not deterred by this decision,” Kennedy said. “We feel so strongly about this issue, as do our congressional supporters, that we will, consistent with the stop work directive, self-fund the F136 program through this 90-day stop work period.”

Proponents of the alternate engine say it will save money in the long run and also provide 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.

The Pentagon estimates that ending the second-engine work would save $3 billion.

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

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

Rep. John Larson (Conn.), chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, applauded the move.

“This program is the epitome of government waste, one that [Secretary Gates] himself referred to as an ‘unnecessary and extravagant expense,’" Larson said in a statement. "Today’s decision will save the American people nearly a million dollars a day and bring to close an issue that has been debated in Congress for more than four years."

The second engine grabbed headlines this year when the House voted on it during consideration of a 2011 continuing resolution to fund the government. Republicans joined Democrats in axing the program despite the opposition of House GOP Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew Boehner4 reasons Mike Pompeo will succeed at Foggy Bottom The misunderstood reason Congress can’t get its job done GOP sees McCarthy moving up — if GOP loses the House MORE, whose home state of Ohio hosts some of the second engine work.

The GE-Rolls team took a shot at the F-35’s primary power plant, which is being built by Pratt & Whitney.

“The F135 has racked up $3.4 billion in cost overruns with continued delays and technical issues,” Kennedy said. “Just last week, House hearings confirmed that the [Pratt] engine has not met required testing.

“These issues won't fix themselves,” he said. “Only competition creates performance based rewards and delivers better and better capability.”

Kennedy added the GE-Rolls team’s “supporters in Congress are more determined than ever, and are encouraging us to press the merits of our case.”