The Pentagon issued a “stop work” order for the GE Aviation F136 engine in late March, and the Fiscal Year 2011 U.S. defense budget was finally signed into law last month, without funding for the alternative F-35 engine. But the fight for the F136 is not yet over.
The U.S. House Armed Services Committee (HASC) has revived the alternative engine option in draft legislation for the Fiscal Year 2012 defense authorization act. A GE Aviation spokesman said that the company, together with 40 percent partner Rolls-Royce, has agreed to a proposal from the HASC chairman that the contractors self-fund continuing development of the F136 over the next two fiscal years.
With 80 percent of the engine development completed, the contractors hope to retain the hardware, assemblies and testing capacity funded by the government, the spokesman said.
Deliveries of the F-35 have been delayed by two years, affording the opportunity to stretch the engine program. That would keep the alternative engine “viable” for both the F-35 and for a future U.S. Air Force long-range bomber. The Fiscal Year 2012 budget includes initial funding for the bomber.
GE earlier noted that the F136 was meeting performance goals, whereas the Pratt & Whitney F135 had suffered development delays and cost overruns.
Some international partners in the F-35 program have expressed concern about the lack of competition, if the F136 engine is dropped. According to a September 2009 cable from the U.S. Embassy in the Netherlands, published by Wikileaks, “prospects for winning continued Dutch support for the JSF are dim without continuation of the F136 program.” Dutch industry had some high-value subcontracts supporting development of the F136, and GE/R-R had estimated that more than $1 billion worth of work could be placed in Holland over the life of the program, the cable noted.