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Major Battle Brews Over F136

Pratt & Whitney hopes it can finally crush the pesky second engine program for the Joint Strike Fighter during a floor vote later this week. General Electric and Rolls Royce know they face significant opposition and have mobilized all their resources -- press conferences, PAC money, jaw-jaw with lawmakers and the best ads defense money can buy -- to keep their program alive and strong.

How hard is GE coming out swinging? Here's the line from an ad due to run in enemy country [Hartford, Conn.] this week: "Let's Get Real," the all-uppercase copy reads. "Perhaps if you think you are close to winning a $100 billion monopoly for the next 30 years, delusions of grandeur take over."

On top of that, GE and partner Rolls Royce are lining up some congressional reinforcements. The chairman and ranking members of the House Armed Services Committee's defense acquisition reform panel, Reps. Robert Andrews and Michael Conaway, have penned a Dear Colleague letter supporting GE and Rolls Royce argument that competition stands in the best interests of the taxpayers and the government. Essentially, they say that there  is "no doubt that competition will benefit the JSF engine program.

Another Dear Colleague letter, this one penned by Reps. Adam Smith, Gene Taylor, Roscoe Bartlett, and Akin, is set to go out tomorrow. For a detailed look at the arguments it will make -- as well as those OSD has been making -- read this congressional document.

During a lunch for reporters GE hosted this afternoon at their government operations center in downtown DC,  company officials outlined their essential arguments.

Don't grant an engine monopoly for such an important program.

U.S. jobs are not at stake since both enterprises do about 20 percent of their work offshore.

Their engine will not use any more space on a carrier than will the competition's.

Pratt & Whitney's costs are "spiralling, spiralling out of control."

"We are going to try harder."

Pratt "will have to modify or redesign" its engine.

The country has already paid two-thirds of the bill for program's development and a GE/RR engine will fly next year.

For the Pratt counterpoint, read this statement from spokeswoman Erin Dick:

The proof that the Pratt & Whitney F135 engine is working very well took place in March when the F-35 performed a flawless first vertical landing. The F135 engine is not only performing exceptionally well during flight test, it is also achieving it's cost targets, has received government certification, has logged more than 17,500 hours and is in production. GE continues to cite ongoing cost and technical problems on the F135 that simply do not exist. In reality, it's the performance of the F136 that the government is concerned about. Last week Secretary Gates said, "The proposed engine is based on the design they currently have on the test stand, which we are deeply concerned may not meet the performance needs of the Joint Strike Fighter."

GE controls more than 70% of the military engine market, including monopolies on numerous military aircraft like the F-18, the Black Hawk helicopter the Apache helicopter and the A-10, none of which has an extra engine. The bottom line is that the Department of Defense does not want or need the extra engine, which will cost at least an additional $2.9B in taxpayers' money and will have an adverse impact on the U.S. industrial base and our troops. In addition, the DoD does not believe there is any benefit to further competition.

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