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Cracks Appear in F136 Support

UPDATED: Pratt Says Tight Budget Pushing Lawmakers to Question F136

The late Rep. Jack Murtha believed strongly in the need for a second Joint Strike Fighter engine and it showed. Appropriators have pushed through some $3 billion in funding for the F136 over the years and Murtha was in the front row as chairman of the House Appropriations defense subcommittee.

At the first meeting of the HAC-D under the leadership of Rep. Norm Dicks (D-Wash.) several members expressed doubt about the need for a second engine, marking what two lawmakers said was the first time members have publicly questioned the F136 during a subcommittee meeting.

Rep. Carolyn Kilpatrick (D-Mich.) was the first to raise questions about the second engine program, asking Rear Adm. David Philman and Air Force Maj. Gen. David Scott if they thought a second engine was necessary. Philman expressed the Navy's viand said, that a second engine just made life too complicated for a service with little space to spare.

Dicks, exercising the chairman's prerogative, jumped in, saying, "we've been told over and over that most of the problems [with JSF] are with the engine of record." But Philman said the kinks appeared to have been ironed out of the Pratt & Whitney engine, which he said has 13,000 hours of testing behind it and is in low rate initial production

Dicks jumped back iin. "The program manager testified to this committee that the [Pratt] engine was the cause of the delays," he said. "Maybe that's why he isn't the program manager any more." Defense Secretary Robert Gates sacked the PM, Maj. Gen. David Heinz, at the beginning of the 2011 budget briefing.

I slipped out of the hearing to ask Rep. Kay Granger (R-Texas) if she would support the second engine program. She said she would not support the second engine if siphoned money from the JSF program. When I asked her if that meant she would support the F136 if the money came from another pot. It looks as if she may not vote for it, though there seems to be some wriggle room.

A Pratt & Whitney spokeswoman said the tight budget is helping soften lawmakers support for the F136. "As members of Congress start looking at having to make painful cuts in a number of defense and non-defense programs, I think more and more of them are going to come to the conclusion that it does not make sense to fund an engine that DoD says it doesn't want, doesn't need and won't use. The Pratt & Whitney F135 has been cleared for vertical lift operations since January of 2009, and we remain ready today. The F135 is performing extremely well in flight test and we have delivered all but one test engine and are currently delivering production engines" said Erin Dick, spokeswoman for Pratt & Whitney Military Engines.

Toward the end of the hearing, Dicks told the room that he had received the infamous "business case" briefing about the F136 cited by Gates several times when he argued against funding for the second engine. However, checks with several sources left it unclear whether the brief had magically appeared or not. Buzz readers will remember that the leadership of the House Armed Services Committee told Gates they wanted to see the briefing.

Not all members spoke about the second engine. Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.), did, stepping in several times to express strong support for the second engine, built by General electric and Rolls Royce.

At the end of today's hearing, I asked Dicks if cracks were appearing in the subcommittee's support for the F136. "I think there's still a lot of support for it," he said referring to Rep. Skelton's letter to Gates, which did not exactly answer the question of support on his subcommittee. "Secretary Gates has made this a very major issue and we'll have to look at what he has to say."

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