Budget Cuts Target F-35 Alternative Engine

Does the F-35 need a second choice of engines?

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Secretary of Defense Robert Gates
and the Lockheed-Martin F-35 "Lightning"

President Obama and Defense Secretary Robert Gates think plans to develop a second-engine option for the fighter could waste up to $3 billion. The House of Representatives agreed, voting yesterday to kill the program to develop the second engine. (Coincidentally, $3 billion is the same amount a failed Senate bill attempted to cut from the FAA budget yesterday.) Administration plans to cut the dual-F-35-engine program placed new Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner in a ticklish spot. Though he leads the new wave of Republican majority in the House, which has been vocal about budget cuts, the second engine in question would have been developed largely by General Electric, whose aircraft engine division is headquartered in Boehner's home state of Ohio. The current F-35 engine is a Pratt & Whitney (from Connecticut-based United Technologies). Most of this week's partisan debate over budget issues centers on the $61 billion of sweeping cuts in domestic programs, but the two sides of this issue appear to fall out along regional rather than party lines. Supporting the Obama administration view, Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho) said, "We know we can't balance this budget simply by reducing nonsecurity, nondefense spending." Rep. Bob Dold (R-Ill) said, "We have to step forward, we have to cut back on areas and this is an area that the secretary of defense said we need to cut back on." There is historic precedent for developing a choice of engines for a fighter program - for one thing, it generates competition which could lower costs in the long term. But supporters of cutting the GE program say that now is not the time to be expending up-front tax money in hopes of future savings.