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Stop Jet Engine Pet Project That Military Does Not Want

In May, the House passed the FY2011 Defense Appropriation Bill that includes $485 million for an extra F-35 Joint Strike Fighter engine that the Pentagon does not want. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) announced that the Senate will vote on taking up the defense spending bill today. In its current state, the Senate version does not include any funding for the extra engine. Due to strong-arm lobbying tactics, key Senators will likely push for an earmark that funds the wasteful alternate engine program.

In the House today, lawmakers are voting on a four hundred page omnibus bill to fund the government for the next ten months that could include the wasteful engine. According to the Hill,

Senate and House appropriators have quietly been working on a catch-all spending bill for fiscal year 2011. A senior lawmaker told The Hill that at this point funding for the second engine is included in that omnibus legislation.

This is a clear case of special interest politics. President Obama has threatened to veto any bill that contains funding for the secondary engine. Former President Bush also pushed to eliminate taxpayer funding of the alternate engine program that burdens both taxpayers and the military. For roughly a decade, the Air Force has considered the extra engine to be “not necessary and not affordable.”

The Joint Strike Fighter alternate engine program began in 1996, when Congress ordered two engines, F135 and F136, from separate military contractors. The goal was to boost competition between the two engines. It worked. The two engines built for the aircraft differed markedly in quality. Six years later, the Department of Defense (DOD) declared the F135 engine the winner of its Joint Strike Fighter competition.

The DOD wisely chose the far superior F135 engine built by Pratt and Whitney. According to Senator Lieberman (I-Conn.),

There was a competition to build the engine for Joint Strike Fighter. Pratt & Whitney won that competition.

The developed and certified F135 has already had an impressive 17,500 hours of testing and has successfully powered vertical flight operations.

Yet, Congress fails to end taxpayer support of the F136 under development by General Electric and Rolls Royce that the military does not want nor need. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has publicly said that “we think the current engine that GE is offering probably does not meet the performance standards that are required.” It has yet to even power a single plane in flight and it is estimated to be 5 to 7 years behind in development. The F136 engine has only been tested for approximately 200 hours total.

According to Air Force Chief of Staff General Norton Schwartz, “the reality is that the F-22 and F-18E/F are single-engine airplanes.” Not one aircraft built in the last few decades has had multiple engine suppliers. Shouldn’t we respect the wishes of the military by ending this needless program?

Defense spending has always been a lucrative source of earmarks and pet projects, and this is not an exception. It is projected that it will cost taxpayers at least an additional $2.9 billion to finally finish the inferior F136 engine. Since the additional funds to develop the F136 are not in the defense budget, the Department of Defense will be forced to take away money from more pressing military needs. As Robert Gates has said “every dollar additional to the budget that we have to put into the F-35 is a dollar taken from something else that the troops may need.”

Unfortunately, the fight over aircraft engines is emblematic of the new role Washington plays in the business world.  Today, the quickest way to profit is often through government largesse rather than innovation and entrepreneurship.  General Electric typifies the large rent seeking companies that wage battle not in the marketplace, but in the halls of Congress. In an email to his colleagues, General Electric Vice President John G. Rice writes, "the intersection between GE's interests and government action is clearer than ever.”

In addition to lobbying for an unnecessary engine that will cost taxpayers billions, General Electric aggressively promotes other self-serving legislation, such as the costly cap and trade program that would add to the company’s bottom line at the expense of taxpayers and the American economy. Especially in an economic downturn, taxpayers cannot afford to fund the pet projects of politicians and corporations.  Congress should stand up to the special interests seeking to line their pockets with taxpayer dollars and reject the failed second engine.