UPDATED: HASC Chair Promises Fight as DoD Announces Stop Work Order;
General Electric and Rolls Royce suffered what could be the final blow in the second great engine war as the Pentagon announced it issued a stop work order for the Joint Strike Fighter's second engine.
"The administration and the DoD strongly oppose the extra engine program, as reflected in the President’s fiscal 2012 budget proposal that was recently submitted to Congress, which does not include funding for the program. In our view it is a waste of taxpayer money that can be used to fund higher Departmental priorities, and should be ended now," the Pentagon press release notes.
"The House of Representatives has recently expressed its own opposition to the extra engine in its passage of H.R. 1 including the adoption of the Rooney Amendment which removed all fiscal 2011 funding for this program. In addition, funding for the extra engine was not authorized in the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal 2011, enacted in January. In light of these recent events, Congressional prerogatives, and the administration’s view of the program, we have concluded that a stop work order is now the correct course. The stop work order will remain in place pending final resolution of the program’s future, for a period not to exceed 90 days, unless extended by agreement of the government and the contractor," the release said.
This could well spell the effective end of the program, one that partners GE and Rolls Royce and their congressional allies have battled tirelessly to keep going.
Rep. Buck McKeon, chair of the House Armed Services Committee and longtime supporter of the F136, promised to use every legislative lever to keep the program going.
“Yesterday, my staff director at the House Armed Services Committee received a call from Under Secretary of Defense Ash Carter informing the committee of the Department’s decision to discontinue funding for the Joint Strike Fighter’s competitive engine program.
“The views of the President and Secretary Gates are well known on this topic, but those opinions—however strong—are not the law. The Joint Strike Fighter F136 engine program is funded under the current Continuing Resolution. The Secretary should follow current law and not pre-empt the Congressional deliberation process by yanking funding after a single amendment vote," McKeon said in a press statement. “The Department’s decision is especially troubling when you consider their preferred engine has experienced development delays and a cost to complete increase of 445 percent over the last three years. “Going forward," he promised, "we will explore all legislative options available to us to maintain engine competition in the largest acquisition program in U.S. history.”
GE struck back within minutes of receiving the stop work order, saying it would "self-fund" the engine for the next 90 days, clearly hoping to keep it going long enough to mobilize congressional supporters and save the program.
Here's the gist of the statement from spokesman Rick Kennedy:
"While the F136 development contract contains a "stop work" clause, we are disappointed that DoD took this unilateral action before Congress has completed its work on the fiscal year 2011 budget. However, we are not deterred by this decision. We feel so strongly about this issue, as do our Congressional supporters, that we will, consistent with the stop work directive, self-fund the F136 program through this 90-day stop work period.
"We are fully committed to delivering a better engine for the F-35 program, and have no intention of abandoning the warfighter and taxpayers. Everyone knows competition saves money. Our supporters in Congress are more determined than ever, and are encouraging us to press the merits of our case.
"We will not walk away from a $3 billion taxpayer investment and your hard work to deliver what the Senate has called a "near model program." The F136 engine is meeting or exceeding performance expectations, is demonstrating significant advantages over the Pratt & Whitney engine, and is nearly complete.
"The F135 has racked up $3.4 billion in cost overruns with continued delays and technical issues. Just last week, House hearings confirmed that the P&W engine has not met required testing for the JSF flight envelope after four years.
These issues won't fix themselves. Only competition creates performance based rewards and delivers better and better capability ... it's just that simple. Mischaracterizing the F136 as "redundant" does not support our founding principles of competition and excellence which are at the core of the US military."
In an earlier statement sure to raise some congressional hackles, Kennedy went on to say there is "significant remorse on the Hill over Rooney's amendment vote earlier this year to line the pockets of Connecticut and Florida with more P&W jobs." GOP Rep. Tom Rooney of Florida offered the amendment that attracted significant Tea Party support and marked what looks increasingly like a fundamental change in the power calculus on the House side since the vote went against the support of Speaker John Boehner, HASC Chairman Buck McKeon, and two lions of the appropriations committee, chairman of the defense subcommittee, Rep. Bill Young, and the HAC’s chairman, Rep. Hal Rogers.
This final push -- if it comes and if it holds in the face of congressional opposition -- by Defense Secretary Gates would mark a major win for the Obama administration and put yet another notch on the secretary's budget blunderbuss.