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Analysis

They Self-Fund Extra Engines, Don't They?

The fight over the alternate engine for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) has become the second great engine war. While the great engine war of the '80s earned its title for its cost savings for taxpayers, the F135 (Pratt and Whitney) engine versus F136 (General Electric/Rolls Royce) engine fight has earned its title by being never ending (as that links puts it, possibly having "more lives than Disco") as Congress tries to force the Pentagon to buy an extra engine that it doesn't want.

The latest tactic in this war is GE and Rolls Royce offering to "self-fund" development of the F136 for the next two years and show the chumps in the Pentagon how their engine is better and will save taxpayer funds in a program that is projected to have operating costs that run to a trillion dollars over its life time. Congress has repeatedly challenged the Pentagon's acquisition chief, Ashton Carter, on the issue, and Carter has responded that his fear is that even if we aren't paying now, taxpayers will have to pay for it later.

A memo Carter sent to Senator Joe Lieberman (I-CT) regarding language in the House's Defense Authorization Act explains in more detail some of the costs that will accrue to taxpayers under the proposed "self-funded plan."

"The only scenario that this would meet the test of 'no-cost to the government'...is simply not realistic," Carter writes.

Instead, the Pentagon estimates that the self-funded program would actually cost taxpayers $2.9 billion.

"The 'self-funded' effort would simply be a means to reestablish government funding for the F136 at a later date," unless Congress passed language that stated "that any and all costs associated...would be unrecoverable directly or indirectly in any present (via overhead charges) or future contract with the US Government."

Unless that happens, Carter writes, the extra engine is going to be an extra hurdle to ensuring a successful JSF program.