California Rep. Buck McKeon, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, praised and "accepted" GE and Rolls-Royce's offer to self-fund development of the F136 alternate engine on Thursday, citing it as an example of how DoD and industry could work together to continue programs but reduce costs. GE and Rolls-Royce will pay out of their own pockets to go on developing the engine through 2012, McKeon said, even though the Pentagon last month terminated their contract and considers the "extra" engine dead.
But McKeon, GE and Rolls-Royce argue that building only one engine for the F-35 Lightning II constitutes an unfair advantage for Pratt & Whitney and that the F136 "competitive" engine will force down costs as the industry teams bid for new batches of work over the course of the F-35 program.
"I’m curious how protecting a monopoly for a program that will span decades and cost $400 billion is in the best interest of the taxpayer," McKeon said Thursday in a speech at the conservative Heritage Foundation. "It sounds like the classic 'penny wise, pound foolish' purchasing strategy that has hounded the Pentagon for years."
Continued McKeon: "GE and Rolls Royce are aware of the current stresses on the defense budget and the taxpayer. So I’m pleased to announce that instead of being part of the problem, they have decided to be part of the solution. Instead of lobbying for the final twenty percent needed to finish the engine, the GE team has committed to funding the engine for fiscal year 12 on their own dime. I will accept and support their approach. They believe in their engine and they believe in competition.Thanks to their willingness to compromise, we’ll break up a monopoly; potentially harvest billions in savings, while fielding a more capable, more robust fighter jet -- all at zero cost to the American taxpayer."
But as you've read on Buzz before, this gamble assumes that GE and Rolls-Royce can win over more engine supporters in this Congress, where it lost a crucial vote earlier this year, or add more allies after next year's elections. And if the alternate engine can rebuild its coalition on the Hill, it then must take on the White House and the Pentagon, which remain dead-set against what they've called a wasteful, duplicative program.
A DoD spokeswoman had no comment on McKeon's speech.