F136: Stop Work

By Jason Sherman / March 24, 2011 at 4:33 PM

The Pentagon today announced plans to stop funding the Joint Strike Fighter alternate engine program, drawing a strong challenge from a key congressional committee and a pledge from F136 builder General Electric to fight the move.

The Defense Department's announcement:

The Department of Defense today issued a stop work order in connection with the Joint Strike Fighter extra engine program.

The administration and the DoD strongly oppose the extra engine program, as reflected in the President’s fiscal 2012 budget proposal that was recently submitted to Congress, which does not include funding for the program.  In our view it is a waste of taxpayer money that can be used to fund higher Departmental priorities, and should be ended now.

The House of Representatives has recently expressed its own opposition to the extra engine in its passage of H.R. 1 including the adoption of the Rooney Amendment which removed all fiscal 2011 funding for this program.  In addition, funding for the extra engine was not authorized in the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal 2011, enacted in January.  In light of these recent events, Congressional prerogatives, and the administration’s view of the program, we have concluded that a stop work order is now the correct course.  The stop work order will remain in place pending final resolution of the program’s future, for a period not to exceed 90 days, unless extended by agreement of the government and the contractor.

Rep. Buck McKeon (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, responded with the following:

Yesterday, my staff director at the House Armed Services Committee received a call from Under Secretary of Defense Ash Carter informing the committee of the Department’s decision to discontinue funding for the Joint Strike Fighter’s competitive engine program.

The views of the President and Secretary Gates are well known on this topic, but those opinions—however strong—are not the law.  The Joint Strike Fighter F136 engine program is funded under the current Continuing Resolution.  The Secretary should follow current law and not pre-empt the Congressional deliberation process by yanking funding after a single amendment vote.

Regardless of the convenient arguments utilized by the Department of Defense and others, canceling the engine competition and awarding a sole-source, never-competed contract constitutes the largest earmark in the history of the Department of Defense.  In the case of the Littoral Combat Ship, our industry partners did not voluntarily lower their price—competition forced a lower price per ship.  In this era of fiscal responsibility, I am stunned that the Administration and the Congress would accept the argument that it is good policy to save a dollar today only to spend a thousand dollars tomorrow.

The Department’s decision is especially troubling when you consider their preferred engine has experienced development delays and a cost to complete increase of 445 percent over the last three years.

Going forward, we will explore all legislative options available to us to maintain engine competition in the largest acquisition program in U.S. history.

The F136 industry team has also weighed in with a statement:

The GE/Rolls-Royce Fighter Engine Team received a "Stop Work" order from the Department of Defense instructing the team to stop efforts on the F136 for 2011 once the current funding runs out at the end of March.

While the F136 development contract contains a "stop work" clause, we are disappointed that DoD took this unilateral action before Congress has completed its work on the fiscal year 2011 budget.

However, we are not deterred by this decision. We feel so strongly about this issue, as do our Congressional supporters, that we will, consistent with the stop work directive, self-fund the F136 program through this 90-day stop work period.

We are fully committed to delivering a better engine for the F-35 program, and have no intention of abandoning the warfighter and taxpayers.

Everyone knows competition saves money. Our supporters in Congress are more determined than ever, and are encouraging us to press the merits of our case. We will not walk away from a $3 billion taxpayer investment and your hard work to deliver what the Senate has called a "near model program."

The F136 engine is meeting or exceeding performance expectations, is demonstrating significant advantages over the Pratt & Whitney engine, and is nearly complete.

The F135 has racked up $3.4 billion in cost overruns with continued delays and technical issues.  Just last week, House hearings confirmed that the P&W engine has not met required testing for the JSF flight envelope after four years.

These issues won't fix themselves.  Only competition creates performance based rewards and delivers better and better capability ... it's just that simple. Mischaracterizing the F136 as "redundant" does not support our founding principles of competition and excellence which are at the core of the US military.

We are gratified that several House and Senate leaders, who will convene in early April to complete the FY2011 budget process, are determined supporters of competing JSF engines for a myriad of financial and security reasons.