The Pentagon is canceling a controversial program to develop an alternate engine for its next-generation F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, putting an end to one of Washington's longest-running and most-divisive contracting battles. In a terse statement this afternoon, the Defense Department said it notified General Electric and Rolls Royce that their joint bid to develop a second engine for the advanced warplane was being formally "terminated." The Pentagon said the two companies had also "been instructed to preserve and deliver government property" back to the military. The companies had no immediate comment. As recently as this month Rolls Royce and GE said they hoped Congress and the Pentagon would change their minds about the funding. Drawing on the support of House Speaker Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, and other powerful House Republicans, they tried to get $450 million added back into the budget to preserve their piece of the Joint Striker Fighter effort. The move failed, yet the two companies insisted they would keep in place "a core technical team to protect, enhance, and advance" the alternate-engine design in the hope that its funding would be restored. The White House and the Pentagon had derided the program as unnecessary and wasteful. Supporters of developing the second engine-including Boehner and the leaders of the House Armed Services Committee-had argued that funding the program would ultimately lead to a better and cheaper plane by forcing the two sets of engine-making conglomerates to compete against each other going forward. At issue is whether the Joint Strike Fighter effort, which will build a stealthy fighter that can be used by the Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps, should proceed with one engine maker or two. Pratt & Whitney has the contract to build the primary engine, a deal that could be worth tens of billions of dollars over the life of the contract. The Defense Department estimated that developing and beginning initial production of the second engine would have cost roughly $3 billion, pushing up the price tag for what is already slated to be the most expensive acquisitions program in Pentagon history. Depending on how many planes are ultimately ordered, the Joint Strike Fighter effort may ultimately cost more than $380 billion. The lobbying fight intensified sharply in recent months as the Obama administration moved to finally kill off the second engine while lawmakers were caught up in the negotiations to avert a government shutdown. In late March, the Pentagon ordered GE and Rolls Royce to cease all work related to the project. In its statement today, the Pentagon noted that the stop-work order saved "the expenditure of $1 million per day." The potential demise of the second engine may help lower the temperature of what had become an unusually heated and public debate over something as arcane as aviation mechanics. In recent months, both Pratt & Whitney and the GE/Rolls Royce team bought full-page ads in local newspapers and blanketed Washington Metro trains and stations with signs making the case for their engines. GOP lawmakers like Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Md., meanwhile, went so far as to accuse the Pentagon of breaking the law in its push to eliminate the second engine. Bartlett, the chairman of the Armed Services Tactical Air and Land Forces Subcommittee, said the Pentagon's legislative affairs office improperly sent documents to House members urging them to cut funding for the program, violating a ban on military lobbying. The Pentagon said the documents were part of a standard practice of supplying information on military programs and was not illegal.
Want to contribute to this story? Share your addition in comments.