The U.S. House armed services seapower and air-land forces subcommittees this week included $485 million in continued funding for the GE/Rolls-Royce F136, an alternative engine for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF), in H.R.5136, the National Defense Authorization Bill for Fiscal Year 2011. Although the Pentagon has opposed the engine program, “The committee has believed that competition in the F-35 engine program helps insure against the operational risk of up to 95 percent of the entire U.S. tactical fighter fleet being grounded due to an engine problem,” subcommittee chairman Adam Smith (D-Wash.) noted.
This latest action follows a long tradition of congressional support for the F136 engine. Congress has funded the engine for 14 years to ensure competition on the largest weapons procurement program in history. According to the U.S. Government Accountability Office, competition between Pratt & Whitney and GE/Rolls-Royce–the two F-35 engine makers–could lead to long-term savings of up to 20 percent for the $100 billion engine program.
While the inclusion of funding in the House authorization bill by the subcommittees could be considered a good sign for GE/Rolls-Royce F136 program, it is just one step in the long process that eventually results in real money being allocated by the defense appropriations bill, which must be signed into law by the president. Last year’s final FY2010 defense authorization bill, for example, was not signed until December 19.
“Competition has been demonstrated to help limit cost growth in acquisition programs, including as the first alternate engine program did for the F-15, F-16 and F-14. And competition has also been demonstrated to motivate contractor responsiveness, technical innovation and improve engine maintainability, reliability and durability,” said Smith.
The F136 development program is more than 70 percent complete. Flight testing is scheduled to start next year.