House Armed Services Committee looks to keep alive second F-35 engine

The Pentagon authorization measure the House Armed Services Committee will take up this week includes a provision that would keep alive a second engine for the F-35 fighter fleet.

The bill would limit "the obligation or expenditure of funds for performance improvements to the F-35 propulsion system unless the secretary of Defense ensures that funds are made available and expended in fiscal year 2012 for two options for the F-35 propulsion system."

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The Pentagon wants to kill a second engine, being developed by Rolls-Royce and GE, saying it would waste billions and isn't needed. Proponents say it would save tens of billions over time, and provide a back up should the main power plant, made by Pratt & Whitney, fail.

The idea behind the provision is to force competition, said HASC spokesman Josh Holly.

"What we're trying to do is penetrate the disconnect between those in the building who like the engine they have and those in the building who believe the [Pratt engine] is out of thrust," Holly said in an email.

"The basic point of the provision is to require a competition before the Department of Defense pushes 'extra' taxpayer money toward an engine that might need 'extra' thrust in order to meet the requirements of the [F-35]," Holly said. "If the Pentagon wants to improve the engine they have, and the engine they believe meets their requirements, by investing more taxpayer money into that effort, there should be a competition."

With the Rolls-GE engine providing thousands of jobs to swing state Ohio -- home of House Speaker Rep. John Boehner (R) -- the issue has become a political matter. A compromise 2011 Pentagon appropriations bill did not fund the second engine program; Rolls and GE are now self-funding it to keep it alive.

Armed Services subcommittees will mark up portions of the bill Wednesday and Thursday. The full panel will take up the entire measure May 11.

Additionally, the panel will propose increasing the Pentagon's spending request for General Dynamics-made Abrams tanks and Bradley Fighting Vehicles, built by BAE Systems.

"The current plan advocated by the Army would result in a production break for these two programs, which could last anywhere from one to three years and could cost American taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars," the Armed Services Committee said in a statement.

The panel will authorize $3.5 billion for 28 F/A-18E/F fighters and 12 EA-18G electronic warfare jets, providing a boost to Boeing. The Chicago-based firm also would benefit from the $2.5 billion the panel wants for two versions of the V-22 tiltrotor, which Boeing builds with parter Bell.

The Pentagon is seeking nearly $10 billion for the F-35 program in 2012; the panel would authorize $7.7 billion for the effort.
 
Amid predictions from senior pro-defense lawmakers about additional Pentagon budget cuts, the House panel wants to add over $100 million to the Pentagon's 2012 funding request for missile defense programs.

In recent weeks, Reps. Bill Lewis (R-Fla.) and Norm Dicks (D-Wash.), the chairman and ranking member of the House Appropriations Committee, and other lawmakers have said they anticipate Congress will take its ax to the Pentagon's $553 billion 2012 spending plan. Both said the budget-cutting fervor on Capitol Hill that led to the compromise 2011 defense budget, which cut $18 billion from the Pentagon's request, would still be around this summer as lawmakers take up the next military spending plan.

The committee revealed a proposed $109.7 million increase to the Obama administration's desired $10.1 billion ballistic missile defense funding level.

"Maintaining this deterrent is important for the security of our homeland and our allies,” Armed Services Strategic Forces subcommittee Chairman Rep. Mike Turner (R-Ohio) said in a statement.
 
The subcommittee's portion of the authorization bill would add $50 million to buy more Raytheon-built Aegis Standard Missile-3 interceptors. The administration is seeking $565.4 million.

It wants to swell the administration's $1.2 billion funding level for the Ground-based Midcourse Defense program, under development by several defense firms, by $100 million.

Turner's panel will propose more than doubling a $106 million request for U.S.-Israeli joint missile programs.

The portion of the authorization bill the subcommittee will take up does propose cutting funding for several missile defense programs by hundreds of millions.

On space hardware programs, the subcommittee is looking to cut $79.5 million from the administration's $10.2 billion request.

The biggest loser would be the Deep Space Climate Observatory effort, which the panel wants to strip $124 million of the Pentagon's $134.5 million request.

Meantime, the Armed Services Military Personnel subcommittee released details of its portion of the legislation, which it also will take up on Wednesday.

It's part of the bill would provide military personnel a 1.6 percent pay hike and prohibit TRICARE Prime fee increases for a year.

A summary of the personnel section of the 2012 authorization measure will express "deep concern the committee feels about the impact proposed future force reductions for the Army and Marine Corps will have on individual dwell time as well as the overall health and welfare of the all volunteer force," according to a committee summary.

Those troop reductions, proposed by outgoing Defense Secretary Robert Gates and the leaders of the Army and Marines, would begin in 2015.