Capitol Hill newspapers are reporting tonight that House defense appropriators have earmarked unrequested funds toward the F136 alternate engine for the Joint Strike Fighter. The spending subcommittee had a closed-door markup of its first-take on regular 2011 defense appropriations today.
The Hill and CongressDaily both reported that the panel approved $450 million for the F136 in an 11-5 vote. The panel's chairman, Rep. Norm Dicks (D-Wash.), apparently did not favor the move but the ranking House Republican appropriator, Rep. Jerry Lewis (Calif.), pushed the language successfully. "I talked to [Defense Secretary Robert] Gates twice about this and he has told me they will veto this bill, without any question," Dicks told reporters after the closed-door markup. "I felt that we should not put it in because of that," he said according to CongressDaily.
Aviation Week's Senior Pentagon Editor, Amy Butler, let me know quickly that Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell criticized the move almost instantly. "I don't know what more we can say or do to make clear that this is something we don't want, we don't need and we can't afford. However, despite today's vote, I can assure you Secretary Gates will do whatever it takes to make sure we don't continue to throw good money after bad in pursuit of the extra engine and he enjoys the full support of the President in that effort."
AvWeek's Senior Technology Editor Graham Warwick alerted me to General Electric-Rolls Royce's statement. "The GE/RR team is very gratified by this strong vote for a long-term engine competition on the JSF, as this committee has studied the aspects of this issue in great detail. The committee determined that supporting the F136 development program was a sound financial decision and good public policy. The F136 investment will more than pay for itself, providing benefits well beyond significant cost savings."
Pratt & Whitney, of course, did not agree. "The extra engine will cost more than it will save, will not create new jobs, and the Pratt & Whitney F135 engine currently powering the F-35 is performing flawlessly," the company said. "For those members who voted to continue wasting these precious defense resources on an unwanted engine, this was a missed opportunity for them to support the American taxpayers, the DoD and the warfighter."
The legislative process is far from over. The administration all along has strongly threatened a veto, from President Barack Obama to Pentagon chief Gates. The House defense appropriations earmark follows similar efforts in the chamber's authorization measure for defense next fiscal year. A corresponding Senate Armed Services Committee bill said nothing, even though its chairman has made clear his preference for pursuing the F136. Senate appropriators have yet to weigh-in formally and finally, and Congress appears weeks or months away from finalizing either 2011 appropriations or authorization.