By Colin Clark
Editor, AOL Defense
WASHINGTON -- Rep. Buck McKeon (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, is likely to insert language into the defense policy bill that would allow General Electric and Rolls Royce to work on the technically de-funded alternate engine program for the Joint Strike Fighter plane. Current government regulations bar the two defense companies from working on the proposed F136 engines because they are now considered government property.
Pratt & Whitney is the maker of the F135 engine, the engine program of record for the Joint Strike Fighter, or F-35. But in a speech at the conservative Heritage Foundation Thursday, McKeon announced that GE and Rolls would invest their own money to keep the program alive and provide "competition" to Pratt & Whitney.
A GE source said the companies would provide between $100 million and $200 million for fiscal 2012. But the alternate engine program has required roughly $500 million per year until now, raising questions over whether it could survive solely on private funds from the two companies.
And it remains unclear whether the Air Force would permit GE entry into and use of government facilities, especially those needed for testing the engine.
But one observer with long experience in military acquisition said the companies' involvement was a “great idea” that would help “keep Pratt honest.” The observer added that there were benefits to allowing a company develop a program without government funding.
Since becoming HASC chairman, McKeon has consistently said that the Defense Department needs more money than it currently receives. But the odds of reviving the alternate engine program may be against him.
On the right side of McKeon sits the Tea Party. It led the big defeat of McKeon and other second engine supporters in mid-February when the House voted 233-198 to kill the F136 engine.
On the left side of McKeon sit a host of Democrats, some eager to trim the defense budget, some who support Pratt, and others who support the administration’s position that the second engine is unnecessary.
Lexington Institute defense analyst and consultant Loren Thompson said he believes GE “is probably wasting money trying to keep its alternative going by spending company money." He added, "GE desperately wants a berth in the future fighter-engine business, but it can't keep pouring money into something the customer has rejected.”
The Pentagon officially rejected the program on April 26.