White House again threatens veto over F136

Washington DC
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This story is sourced from Flight International
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For the third year in a row, the Obama administration has threatened to veto a bill to authorise defence spending if it would enable a competition for the engine that powers the Lockheed Martin F-35 propulsion system.

The White House also "strongly objects" to a proposal banning the disposal of tooling and hardware for the General Electric/Rolls-Royce F136 in the version of the authorisation bill passed on 12 May by the House Armed Services Committee (HASC).

The response sets up another clash between Obama administration officials and lawmakers backing the F136 alternate engine programme for the F-35, which is now powered solely by the Pratt & Whitney F135.

Although Congress ignored the White House veto threat over the F136 in 2009, last year's warning proved effective. Congress voted to strike down amendments proposing to continue development of the F136, heeding a five-year-old campaign by the Department of Defense to kill the programme.

Perhaps chastened by the defeat, the HASC panel, headed by outspoken F136 supporter Rep Harold "Buck" McKeon, proposed a more modest set of proposals for the authorisation bill this year.

Instead of proposing to simply insert funds for relaunching development of the F136, the HASC voted to require a new engine competition if the Pentagon decided to upgrade the thrust of the F135. The bill would also force the Pentagon to store 250,000 pieces of hardware and tooling for the F136, which the DoD has already agreed to do, at least for the short term.

But even these smaller demands crossed the line for the Obama administration, which has agreed with the preceding government that the F136 is unnecessary.

Meanwhile, the GE/R-R team has been lobbying to be allowed to continue developing the F136 on a self-funded basis, with a plan to spend $100 million in fiscal year 2012 to continue testing on three engines in advance of a first flight aboard an F-35 in FY2014.

However, the F136 team is not allowed to continue development - even on its own investment - because the DoD technically owns all of the hardware and tooling.

"The government is willing to spend millions and millions of dollars to terminate the F136 engine, when we [GE/R-R] seek to continue running the development engines in FY2012 at a GE facility, on the Fighter Team's dime," the companies said. "The effort would protect the $3 billion investment already made in the F136 engine."