Defiant panels approve $485 million for F-35 alternate engine

Defense chief contends any savings from increased competition are not worth the upfront costs of developing and buying two engines for the fighter.

Two House Armed Services subcommittees on Thursday defied the Pentagon and approved $485 million to continue an unwanted second engine program for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

The Air and Land Forces and Seapower subcommittees split the cost of the engine for the F-35s, which the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps are buying to replace older fighters.

Air and Land Forces Subcommittee Chairman Adam Smith, D-Wash., argued for two versions of the F-35 engine "to reduce risk and accrue the benefits of competition."

Pratt & Whitney Co. builds the primary engine, while General Electric Co. and Rolls Royce Group build the alternate one.

Without competition, the GE/Rolls-Royce team argues that Pratt & Whitney will have a monopoly on the $100 billion effort to supply engines for the 5,000 to 6,000 F-35s being bought by the United States and allies.

But Defense Secretary Robert Gates has said repeatedly that he will recommend President Obama veto any defense legislation that keeps alive the alternate engine program, arguing that any savings generated from competition are not worth the upfront costs of developing and buying two engines.

"Study on top of study has shown that an extra fighter engine achieves marginal potential savings but heavy upfront costs -- nearly $3 billion worth," Gates said during a May 8 address on defense spending, delivered at the Eisenhower Presidential Library in Abilene, Kan.

After the markups, Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said the Pentagon will "continue to engage in the process to ensure they understand why this is not in the interest of our military and the taxpayers."

The Air and Land Forces mark also requires the Defense Department budget for the alternate engine, beginning in fiscal 2012 and withholds 25 percent of the fiscal 2011 funds for F-35 development until the Pentagon acquisition chief certifies that all funds for development and procurement for the engine have been obligated.

The mark also allows the Pentagon to only obligate funding to buy 30 of the 42 aircraft in the fiscal 2011 request until it meets projections for specific program milestones and objectives.

The panel did not authorize any funding to buy more C-17 cargo planes next year. Gates had said he would recommend a veto of the defense bill if it continued production of the Boeing Co.-built planes, which have enjoyed widespread support on Capitol Hill.

For its part, the Seapower Subcommittee approved a total of $65 billion as its share of the authorization bill, including funding to buy nine Navy and 206 new aircraft.

The ships include two DDG-51s, two Littoral Combat Ships, two Virginia-class attack submarines, the second of the LHA(R) amphibious assault ships, one Joint High Speed Vessel and the first of the new Mobile Landing Platform ships for the Navy, and the research vessel.

The subcommittee restricted half of the $672.3 million requested to start planning a replacement for the Ohio-class ballistic missile submarines until the Pentagon can explain better what it is seeking and why. The panel has been insisting that the Navy provide the results of its analysis of alternatives and the criteria used for that study of the proposed SSBN(X).

Seapower Subcommittee Chairman Gene Taylor, D-Miss., said the large submarine being considered could cost as much as $9 billion, meaning that a force of 12 could run over $100 billion. That price and the fact that the new subs would be in the force for 40 years makes the SSBN(X) decision "a big deal," he said.

Taylor said the major question was whether to continue using the large Trident D-5 missiles now on the Ohio-class submarines, or develop a new, smaller missile that would allow construction of a smaller and cheaper boat. But developing and buying a new ballistic missile could cost as much as $25 billion.

His panel also took another shot at the Navy for its failure to meet deadlines imposed in the enacted fiscal 2010 authorization bill to act on a Boeing proposal for a multiyear purchase of new F/A-18 Super Hornets.

The subcommittee renewed language in last year's bill that authorized the Navy to enter into a multiyear contract for F/A-18 aircraft and directed that the savings be used to buy "the maximum quantity" of additional aircraft possible, Taylor said.

The full Armed Services Committee plans to take up the authorization bill on May 19 and hopes to have it on the House floor before the Memorial Day recess.