Pratt and GE butt heads again over F-35 engine alternative

 - July 20, 2010, 11:08 AM

Pratt & Whitney and General Electric have bought their high-stakes battle over the provision of an alternative engine for the Lockheed-Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter to Farnborough. 

The GE-Rolls-Royce Fighter Engine Team is determined to recover funding for its F136 engine, which was removed from the 2011 budget by the Pentagon. At the show, Jean Lydon-Rogers, GE military engines vice president, said the F136 program is “of enormous importance to GE. It is critical for us to be in the combat aircraft sector. We want to be part of JSF.”

Pratt & Whitney president Dave Hess criticized GE for spending “orders of magnitude” more than P&W on Capitol Hill trying to convince Congress to restore F136 funding. “It’s fair to say there is plenty of lobbying on both sides,” responded Lydon-Rogers, referring to a public relations exercise that has included extensive advertising on U.S. radio stations to persuade the general public to express their indignation on the issue to Congressmen. She insisted that there is “a lot of bipartisan support” to keep GE in the program.

Pratt & Whitney, which installed its first production F135 engine in an F-35 last month, has campaigned tirelessly against the second engine option even though Congress implemented competitive procurement in 1996. Its president, Dave Hess, pointed out that the late 1980s Great Engine War, which pitted the two companies’ respective F-16 engines against each other every year was the only U.S. Air Force engine acquisition program ever to have two engines compete.

GE claims the competition bought F-16 engine prices down by 30 percent and said competing the F-35 engines would result in $20 billion in savings over the life of the program that would cost $100 billion. “It is wrong to give Pratt & Whitney a $100 billion monopoly,” said Lydon-Rogers.

At the show yesterday, GE Fighter Engine Team president Al DiLibero warned that the some of the eight international partners in the F136 program are becoming “vocal” about the stand-off. “They are under budget pressures of their own,” he said. “Cost reduction through competition is important for them.”