A growing tidal wave of reform is poised to sweep the long-standing, lucrative earmark process out to sea. And when it comes to misguided pork barrel spending, the F136 alternative engine truly is the mother of all earmarks, as stated in a recent print advertisement.
Simply put, the General Electric/Rolls-Royce F136 would not still exist were it not for those who have consistently put parochial interests ahead of common sense. Why pay for a second engine when Pratt & Whitney’s F135 has logged more than 20,000 ground test hours and another 700 in flight? Neither the U.S. Navy nor Marine Corps have room for a second engine on their ships, while most international customers won’t buy nearly enough F-35s to split their buy. So, funding the F136 over the objections of two presidents, two secretaries of defense and top military leaders will have the unintended consequence of forcing an uncompetitive split buy on the U.S. Air Force, a service that has already experienced the logistical challenges of supporting two F-16 engines around the world while no other modern U.S. military aircraft has been saddled with a second powerplant.
Some extra engine proponents say the F136 will save money – eventually. Yet, $2 billion in earmarks have already been allocated and the Pentagon estimates another $2.9 billion will be consumed through FY2015. In fact, a second engine is likely to cost more in the long run when you take into account duplicative training, logistics, spare parts, future upgrades, extra government workers to oversee a redundant program, and the fundamental undermining of potential savings based on economies of scale.
Others argue that a second engine will create jobs. I know we’re talking about pork, but that’s just bull. The same number of airframes will be built regardless of whether there is one or two engines on offer. Continuing to fund the F136 only ensures that some of those jobs will go to Rolls-Royce in the United Kingdom, surely an unintended and unwelcome consequence in a time of dire job insecurity.
As Air Force Gen. John Michael Loh (Ret.) said in an op-ed published by The Hill on November 16, “This is not a head-to-head competition between the current Pratt & Whitney engine and the yet to be developed General Electric engine. It is a procurement directed by Congress to guarantee production for GE.”