Congress votes to rescue F136 from extinction

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US lawmakers have launched a campaign to save the General Electric/Rolls-Royce F136 engine from extinction only a week after the Department of Defense signed an order terminating the development programme, worth at least $5 billion.

The House Armed Services Committee forwarded a fiscal year 2012 authorisation bill on 3 May that triggers new engine competitions under two scenarios.

Any move by the DoD to upgrade the take-off or vertical thrust of the Pratt & Whitney F135 engine for the Lockheed Martin F-35 would force a new competition under the House bill.

Secondly, the US Air Force must stage an engine competition for the next-generation bomber if the legislation passes.

ge/rolls-royce f136
 © GE/Rolls-Royce

Neither scenario mentions the F136 by name, but the intent to save the former alternate engine programme for the F-35 is clear.

P&W strongly criticised the House committee's bill. "This just seems like a way to punish the whole F-35 programme because the F136 'extra' engine was terminated," it said.

The DoD finally shut down the F136 programme on 25 April after arguing for six years that its extra costs were not worth what officials described as uncertain benefits of competition.

Allies of the F136 and competitive procurement policies in general in Congress, meanwhile, resisted the DoD's pressure, and kept the F-35's alternate engine alive until earlier this year.

In February, during a wave of deficit-slashing fervour, the full House passed an FY2011 spending bill that contained no funding for the F136. That vote allowed the DoD to terminate the F136 contract.

The GE/R-R team has offered to self-fund at least a portion of the remaining development costs, estimated to range between $1.9 billion and $2.7 billion. But the DoD termination order leaves the F136 team few options, with no access even to the engine hardware developed with $3 billion spent over the past 14 years.

The F136's supporters in Congress have apparently seized on remarks by P&W officials, who have publicly discussed proposals to increase the thrust of the F135 to meet the vertical load bring back requirements of the struggling F-35B variant.

However, the company has now said there is no need to increase the F135's thrust performance.

"The F135 is currently meeting or exceeding thrust specifications and there is no planned effort, nor any need, to increase thrust," it said.