Knives come out as second F-35 engine faces axe – again

How’s this for timing? The day after the Pentagon says it will try again to cancel the General Electric/Rolls-Royce F136 alternative engine for the F-35, the Lexington Institute defence think-tank publishes a study arguing “one engine is enough” to power the Joint Strike Fighter. Either the Institute’s Loren Thompson worked through the night or he knew what was coming. Knowing Loren, it was the latter.

GE%20R-R%20F136%20reheat.jpg The Pentagon tried to cancel the F136 last year, but Congress put the money back into the budget. So eliminating funding for the GE/R-R engine (right, in afterburner) from the defence department’s FY2009 budget request sets the stage for another showdown with the lawmakers. It will be interesting to see what influence the Lexington Institute’s report has on this year’s debate.

No one argues that annual competitions to power the JSF would bring down the purchase price of the engines, or that having two powerplants would avoid the potential for an engine-related grounding of the entire F-35 fleet. But do the advantages outweigh the extra cost of developing, producing and supporting two engines over their service lives? Most DoD studies – and the Lexington report – say no.

So it comes down to the emotive issue of industrial base and keeping GE in the fighter engine business. Citing GE’s domination of the commercial engine market, Loren Thompson argues that keeping the alternative JSF engine would probably cement the company’s dominance over domestic rival Pratt & Whitney “until mid-century, of not forever”.

F-35 keeps flying on Pratt power as argument continues

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