Despite recent developments from Capitol Hill that continuing resolutions will be needed before the end of Fiscal Year 2010 to fund the Pentagon and other government agencies in the short term, President Obama stated through the Office of Management and Budget on Tuesday, September 21 a call for the passage of S. 3454, the National Defense Authorization Act for FY 2011. The statement read in part, “The Administration appreciates that the [Senate Armed Services] Committee supports the President’s budget request, specifically by not authorizing funding…for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter extra engine…”
The unwavering support from President Obama and Defense Secretary Gates for Pratt & Whitney F135’s engine was reinforced this week by news it has surpassed 19,000 ground test hours and 560 flight test hours. Add those together and you’ll see the F135 is about to exceed 20,000 total test hours, an undeniably noteworthy milestone. Moreover, 394 flights as of September 20th, including a dozen flawless vertical landings, mean yet another landmark is about to be reached.
However, the real significance of all these numbers, though individually and collectively impressive, is they translate into tangible program advancements that benefit the warfighter and taxpayer alike. The short take-off vertical landing (STOVL) variant is in the final stages of testing prior to earning initial service release (ISR) certification from the U.S. government later this year. That milestone, combined with earlier ISR certification of the conventional take-off and landing/carrier variant (CTOL/CV) means that F135s powering all three versions of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter will have been fully tested and certified well before the F136 extra engine ever graduates from the test stand.
Yet for all the good news about F135 testing and certification, it’s worth remembering that this is now an engine well into the production phase. Nine production engines have been delivered and in recent days the first production F135 installed in a production F-35 was run to full power.
As the November congressional elections draw ever nearer, taxpayer calls for budgetary prudence and deficit reduction are increasing in intensity. Traditional budget hawk Rep. John Boehner (R-OH) stated earlier this year, “I don’t think any agency of the federal government should be exempt from rooting out wasteful spending or unnecessary spending. And I, frankly, I would agree with it at the Pentagon. There’s got to be wasteful spending there, unnecessary spending there. It all ought to be eliminated.” But his continuing parochial support for the needlessly duplicative F136 extra engine puts him at odds with his own political philosophy and a potential tidal wave of voter anger that might propel him to the speaker’s podium.
Following the fall elections, Congress will need to pick up where the continuing resolutions leave off. And whether the eventually solution for FY 2011 is settled via multiple bills in conference or through an omnibus package, lawmakers have the opportunity to serve the warfighters, heed the citizenry, and save money. Defunding the F136 would accomplish all three goals. Thanks to the continued support of F135 allies across the nation, the best news may still be to come.