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Paris Opera and JSF F-136

Sharp dress uniforms and gorgeous Parisian confections known as dresses dotted the crowd as I strolled through the press of aerospace executives, military officers, wives and nieces at United Technologies' Paris Air Show gala at the sumptuous Paris Opera.

Champagne flowed, the loggia was packed and the tour guide explaining the Chagall ceiling was tres charmant. But the big buckets of cash spent making the evening such a hit were dispensed in part for a very serious purpose -- beating back the GE/Rolls Royce engine program for the Joint Strike Fighter.

While the whole evening wasn't put on just to ensure Pratt & Whitney gets all the gold spent on the JSF engine program, that was the only topic mentioned by a company representative we spoke with. And company officials are publicly pushing that line here at the Paris Air Show.

The Pentagon already sides with P&W. So it is on Capitol Hill where the battle will be won or lost. The battle has been waged with sharp elbows. Sen. Joe Lieberman, a good friend to P&W, restated his opposition to the second engine program earlier this month from his perch as chairman of the Senate Armed Services airland subcommittee. But bipartisan support in both chambers has ensured that the second engine program has been every year in spite of opposition from the Pentagon and from Lieberman.

Given the strong support from both authorizers and appropriators I think P&W's party at the Opera will leave many with a warm glow -- and probably help generate some new business leads -- but I think GE and Rolls Royce will win congressional funding because Congress fears the possible ramifications of a significant technical failure or delay to JSF. Lawmakers would rather spend more for peace of mind, even in a tough budget environment.

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