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Second Engine War Flares Anew

The big information guns from Pratt-Whitney, General Electric and Rolls Royce have been rolling out over the last few days, filling our minds with thunderous thoughts and few new facts. Why all this activity? The lame-duck Congress engages in its final acts starting tomorrow, including a push to pass a defense policy bill and to figure out just what form of defense spending bill (and attendant language) it will pass before vanishing into the fog of history.

The biggest salvo in the engine war resumption came from the pen of former Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England (or at least his name was invoked as the formal author) in the Thanksgiving edition of Aviation Week.

The paragraph that will resonate most loudly:  "The continuing debate regarding the merits of an extra engine for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter surrounds a prime example of the waste that Defense Secretary Robert Gates is trying to eliminate. Support for an extra engine is another case of parochial interests trying to trump efficiency and military readiness."

We believe  some F136 supporters on Capitol Hill are keenly aware of England's piece and are acting to counter his arguments. Look for the usual arguments to be deployed on both sides. Pratt supporters will chant "waste, waste, waste" and "pork, pork, pork." GE and Rolls Royce supporters will chant "competition, competition, competition" and remind everyone of the Great Engine Wars of the F-16 program. They will also point to studies by DoD, GAO and the Institute of that found two engines are unlikely to cost more than one (and may cost less) and are likely to spur design, cost and schedule improvements.

The likely course ahead is that no defense spending bill will pass. Neither will a defense policy bill pass. Defense spending will be wrapped into an omnibus spending bill or a continuing resolution. Either bill could be loaded with F136 funding and with language directing DoD in how to spend that money.  Given that most senior defense authorizers and appropriators remain convinced of the F136's efficacious effects, and the fact that senior leaders exercise disproportionate control over omnibus bills and CRs, I think the second engine is likely to be supported. The Pentagon may also be told that it must spend that money on the F136 and cannot move the money to other programs.

All this is given added impetus since money for the F136 may well run out and require a stop work order by Nov. 29.

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