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HASC tries again to revive alternate engine

What, you thought you'd heard the last of GE and Rolls-Royce's alternate engine for the F-35? Just because the Pentagon killed it off? Well, the companies and their surrogates in the House Armed Services Committee are making another full-on push to bring back the F136, and it won several small tactical victories Wednesday that supporters hope will eventually add up to a new stream of funding from DoD. Members of both parties voted for a provision that would oblige DoD to pay for the F136 if it wants funding next year for the F-35's propulsion systems, and to require DoD to give GE and Rolls access to whatever government-owned equipment and data they need to keep developing the F136 on their own, as they've offered to do.

Not everyone on the committee is a friend to the engine -- Republican Rep. Mike Coffman of Colorado offered an amendment that would bar spending any public money on the F136, but he withdrew it before a vote, acknowledging that he knew it would fail in the full committee. He vowed that he'd try to re-introduce the measure again for the full House. Engine opponents on Wednesday faulted the Armed Services Committee's new efforts to try to help along the F136 -- House members already voted to kill the engine earlier this year, they pointed out, and Secretary Gates and the services remain dead-set against it.

That was before GE and Rolls offered to pay to continue testing and developing it, backers said -- now, the government can theoretically realize the benefits of a competition between the F136 and DoD's preferred F135 engine without paying for both. (For awhile.) "To me, this is a no-brainer," said HASC chairman Buck McKeon, a California Republican. The Armed Services Committee voted 55-5 in favor of the measure requiring DoD to permit GE and Rolls to continue using government-owned data, equipment, test facilities, etc.

Nobody knows what will come next, except the sense of deja vu: House Speaker John Boehner, an Ohio Republican whose district is near the plant in Evendale where the F136 would be built, supports the alternate engine. Just as before, he and other Republican leaders are beating the drum for spending cuts across the federal budget. Just as before, he and other top Republicans also would like to see GE and Rolls build a product its own prospective customer, DoD, calls "wasteful." The question is, will the companies' offer to self-fund be enough to persuade the rest of Congress? And if so, will the Pentagon get on board, or will lawmakers have to try to force the engine on an unwilling DoD, as they did for so many years with C-17s?

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