GE Aviation ends F-35 fighter engine development

AP News
Posted: Dec 02, 2011 7:01 PM
GE Aviation ends F-35 fighter engine development

GE Aviation has abandoned efforts to use its own funding to keep alive development of its alternate engine for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, a spokesman said Friday, effectively ending the project.

The unit of the General Electric Co. has decided its offer to pay for continued development didn't make business sense, spokesman Rick Kennedy said. Because of increased commercial business at the unit, based in the northern Cincinnati suburb of Evendale, there was no immediate job loss, he said.

However, he said, GE Aviation would have added some 500 jobs if the project had continued.

"It's a missed opportunity for southwest Ohio, definitely," Kennedy told The Associated Press.

He said some 800 jobs related to the project have been absorbed into other programs.

The Department of Defense in both the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations had declined to include the alternate in its recent budgets, calling it unneeded spending. Members of Ohio's congressional delegation from both parties had pushed for funding and to keep the program alive.

The House voted in February to cancel $450 million in funding for the alternative engine, deciding the project could be sacrificed for the larger effort to rein in the federal deficit. After the Defense subsequently terminated the program, GE Aviation said it would continue working on the project with partner Rolls-Royce while self-funding.

"We had offered to develop it on our own dime," Kennedy said, but he said uncertainty over schedules in the jet fighter program and other issues led GE Aviation to conclude that "the business model just wasn't there for us to do it."

The jet fighter's main engine is built by Pratt & Whitney.

GE Aviation's F136 engine has been in development for some 15 years. GE and its backers have argued that their alternative would provide competition that would help save taxpayer money _ and add jobs.

"I had hoped that the GE/Rolls-Royce competitive engine could be a model for government-industry partnership to drive down the cost of important weapons systems," Rep. Howard "Buck" McKeon, a California Republican who chairs the Armed Services Committee, said in a statement Friday. He said the discontinued development is "a blow to common-sense acquisition reform" for the Pentagon.

Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, also lamented the project's end, as did Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio.

"The Department of Defense may come to regret its handling of this critical national security program, but I'm pleased that GE will maintain the hundreds of skilled workers at its Evendale facility," Brown said in a statement.

Democratic Reps. John Larson and Joe Courtney of Connecticut _ home of both Pratt & Whitney and GE _ praised the decision as right for difficult economic times.

Rep. Tom Rooney, D-Fla., where Pratt & Whitney has a plant, called the alternative program unnecessary and costly. He said in a statement that the decision Friday "will finally remove any risk that taxpayers may be saddled with the costs of sustaining an extra engine in the future."

GE Aviation and Rolls-Royce said in a joint statement they are proud of their technology advancements and accomplishments on the F136.

They said six development engines had accumulated more than 1,200 hours of testing since 2009, and that the project had been consistently on schedule and on budget.

GE Aviation had said this year it would take some $1 billion to finish development of the engine, which was nearly 80 percent completed.

Republican Rep. Steve Chabot of Cincinnati, whose district includes the GE Aviation headquarters along I-75, said he was saddened by the news. He said the program "would have been a great boost for jobs in our community when so many are out of work."


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