GE Willing To Pay To Continue Jet Engine Work

Jet engine manufacturer offered to fund continued development of the recently terminated alternate engine for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter through 2012.

CINCINNATI (AP) -- Jet engine manufacturer GE Aviation on Thursday offered to fund continued development of the recently terminated alternate engine for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter through 2012.

The GE Electric Co. unit in Evendale, a Cincinnati suburb, has been developing the F136 engine for about 15 years, but the 2011 U.S. defense budget contained no money for the alternate engine and the Department of Defense recently issued an order to stop work on it.

GE's proposal came a day after a House panel moved toward reviving the engine over the objections of President Barack Obama and Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who have strongly opposed the program, calling it wasteful spending.

Defense spokeswoman Cheryl Irwin said Thursday that the department's position has not changed.

Fairfield, Conn.-based GE makes the engine with London-based Rolls-Royce. The jet's main engine is built by Connecticut-based Pratt & Whitney, a unit of United Technologies Corp. GE Aviation and congressional supporters have argued that development of the alternate engine would provide competition that would eventually save taxpayer money.

General Electric Co. CEO Jeff Immelt said in a company release Thursday that competition is "vital to rein in defense spending and will produce long-term savings."

The GE Aviation proposal does not hinge upon any financial commitment by the federal government in 2012 or beyond but would require GE and partner Rolls-Royce to have access to the engines, components and testing facilities, GE Aviation spokesman Rick Kennedy said.

Kennedy said the proposal would involve an investment by GE Aviation of more than $100 million to continue the work through 2012. That is only a small portion of the $1 billion that GE estimates it would need to finish developing the engine.

The proposal would preserve the $3 billion taxpayer investment that has gone into the development to date on an engine that is 80 percent complete, Kennedy said.

The Armed Services subcommittee overseeing land and air forces on Wednesday approved legislation that would force the Pentagon to reopen competition if it has to ask Congress for more money for the Pratt & Whitney engine. That provision would apply to Pentagon spending in the next budget year.

U.S. Rep. Howard McKeon, head of the House Armed Services Committee, praised the GE and Rolls-Royce proposal.

"GE and Rolls-Royce are aware of the current stresses on the defense budget and the taxpayer," McKeon, R-Calif., said in a speech Thursday. "I'm pleased to announce that instead of being part of the problem, they have decided to be part of the solution."

McKeon said he supports the companies' approach.

After his speech, McKeon called on the Pentagon and congressional opponents of the F136 engine to fully support the proposal.

"The taxpayer gets the benefit of competition without having to pay for the entire program," he said. "It's a win for competition, a win for the Armed Services Committee and, most importantly, a win for our nation's taxpayers."

The F136 program had been linked to about 1,000 jobs at the GE Aviation plant in Evendale. GE said last month that it was transferring several hundred employees to other projects while a team of engineers continued working on the engine.

Associated Press reporter Donna Cassata in Washington contributed to this report.

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