McKeon spokesman cryptic on F-35 second engine in 2012 defense bill

A spokesman for House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) struck a cryptic tone about whether the panel’s 2012 defense authorization bill will approve funding for a second F-35 engine.

On Tuesday, House Appropriations Defense subcommittee member Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.) said the Armed Services chairman has said an authorization for the Pentagon to spend 2012 funds on the alternative engine will be included in the bill when its marked up in coming weeks.

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Asked to respond to Moran’s claim, spokesman Josh Holly wrote in an email: “I can't confirm anything that might be in the bill since we are just now starting to finalize the marks.”

Then came the cryptic remark that defense wonks, Wall Street investors and others will be parsing for weeks.

“However, it is no secret that Chairman McKeon believes that funding the F136 engine would provide for greater accountability, better performance, and lower costs over the life of the [F-35] program,” Holly wrote.

The Pentagon says continuing the second engine program would “waste” $3 billion at a time when the nation cannot afford that bill. Alternate engine proponents, including manufacturers GE and Rolls-Royce, say it would save billions over its life and provide a backstop if the primary power plant fleet goes down.

The primary F-35 engine is being built by Pratt & Whitney.

The Armed Services Committee is eyeing a May markup of the 2012 authorization measure.

House and Senate appropriators did not fund the second engine in the 2011 defense spending bill they agreed to last week. DOD has issued a stop-work order to the GE-Rolls team, which is self-funding the project for the time being.