The head of the Joint Strike Fighter program, who was portrayed in a letter by senior House defense lawmakers as voicing support for the F136 second engine, has issued a denial. While he supports the generic idea of competition, Vice Adm. David Venlet supports Defense Secretary Robert Gates' position opposing the F136.
Here's what a Pentagon spokesman sent in an email: "The letter does not correctly convey Vice Admiral Venlet's remarks to the committee. Admiral Venlet made it clear when he briefed HAC-D, that he supports the Secretary of Defense position on the extra engine. He made it clear no one can deny benefits from competition for government equipment, yet he agrees with the analysis that spending more money on an additional engine diverts limited modernization funds from other important Defense priorities."
News that Venlet apparently supported the F136 sent ripples through the defense community given the Obama administration's patent and repeatedly stated opposition to the program. Word of his position came from a letter signed by senior defense lawmakers. The key statement in the letter: “As you are well aware from testimony to the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, Secretary Gates' most senior military advisory and acquisition official on the F-35 program, [Vice] Admiral David Venlet, has stated that he believes in competition in the F-35 engine program.”
The wording was very, very careful and, apparently, disingenuous. It may show just how far lawmakers are willing to go in support of the F136. I hear that senior DoD officials have reassured Venlet that all is well since he, in fact, supports Gates' and the administration's position.
We've contacted the Hill asking for comment. Nothing yet.