TPA Scores a Major Spending Victory! The Joint Strike Fighter Alternate Engine is Dead

David Williams

December 2, 2011

The Taxpayers Protection Alliance (TPA) (and taxpayers) have scored a major spending victory with General Electric (GE)/Rolls Royce announcing that they are giving up their efforts to build an alternate engine for the Joint Strike Fighter.  According to a December 2, 2011 article in Aviation Week, “The move comes after an Oct. 31 meeting between GE Aviation leadership and Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter in which ‘it became clear that the [Defense Department] would not support the FET self-funding effort,’ says GE.”  TPA highlighted the wasteful alternate engine in an October 3, 2011 briefing on Capitol Hill and numerous press releases and blog postings.

Designed to create an affordable substitute for current jet fighters, the Joint Strike Fighter is heralded as the future of fighter jets. The jet is presently equipped with an F-135 engine developed by the Connecticut based company, Pratt & Whitney. In 1996, Congress decided that they were not satisfied with the Pratt & Whitney design and appropriated $7 million to pay General Electric/Rolls Royce for an alternate engine. The Pentagon agreed and requested funding for the program from 1997 until 2006.

In 2007, the Pentagon decided that an additional engine was no longer necessary and ended funding for the program. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense William Balderson said that the department was “very comfortable” with the current engine and that the F-135 was “performing very well.” Despite Balderson’s report, Congress decided to continue funding work on the engine.

President Obama also voiced his opposition to the program, highlighting the alternate engine as a prominent example of government waste. When speaking of the program, Obama said, “The Defense Department is already pleased with the engine it has. The engine it has works. The Pentagon does not want and does not plan to use the alternative version.” Both Defense Secretary Robert Gates and former President George W. Bush have also openly criticized the program.

Despite the bi-partisan agreement that the alternative engine is a waste of money, Congress continued pumping taxpayer dollars into the program. In fact, the engine received $1.2 billion in earmarks from 2004 to 2010. The total cost of the alternate engine was expected to eclipse $3 billion.

This past March, in response to the continued funding, the Department of Defense released a stop work order on the engine. The order declared the expenditure of $1 million a day on an extra engine as “unneeded and wasteful.”  Reading the writing on the wall, GE proposed spending its own money on the program in order to push forward development.

The withdraw of GE’s proposal to self-fund the engine marks the end of the road for the alternate engine and a win for the Department of Defense and taxpayers.