GE / Rolls-Royce F136 alternate engine for Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter fights for survival again

Los Angeles
This story is sourced from Flight International
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General Electric and Rolls-Royce are attempting to rally support in the US Congress for the F136 alternate F-35 Joint Strike Fighter engine after the programme was once again deleted from the forthcoming US defence budget request.

The cancellation of the engine, if confirmed in the final 2008 budget, would save around $1.8 billion, says the Pentagon. An early pre-system design and development-based (SDD) version of the F136 is now being tested at GE's Peebles, Ohio site, with the second due to go to test in March for fan and afterburner design validation.

The first full-up production standard engine is due to enter testing in 2008 and, under current schedules, would be available for competition with the indigenous Pratt & Whitney F135 from 2012. Congress has appropriated about $1.5 billion for the F136 engine dating to the mid-1990s. This includes the $750 million appropriated so far out of the $2.4 billion SDD contract awarded in 2005.

The GE/R-R Fighter Engine Team says a total of around $1.7 billion still needs "to be appropriated to get GE/R-R to a full production engine in 2012". Given the $1.5 billion spent so far, the two companies argue that the US government will have "a full-up competing engine" after a further $1.7 billion. "Cancel now and you get nothing for the $1.5 billion," it adds.

The latest fight in Congress, although not unexpected, is being led by Republican Senator John Warner, a long-time supporter of the alternate engine plan and now minority leader of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Warner, who last year led a successful struggle to restore the F136 to the FY2007 budget, has already asked for the decision to be reconsidered. Commenting on the issue, he said: "If we have but a single engine then we're, in effect, giving a sole-source contract to one contractor, which could amount to $100 billion. I've calculated that."