Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Defense Conferees Defy Obama on Warplane Engines

Oct. 6, 2009 – 1:42 p.m.

In a snub of President Obama, negotiators on the defense authorization bill plan to back continued development of a second engine for the F-35 warplane, according to aides familiar with the deliberations.

At stake is potentially $100 billion worth of jet-engine business. The incumbent contractor is Connecticut’s Pratt & Whitney. Under the alternate program, some F-35 jets would be powered by engines made in Ohio, Indiana and elsewhere by General Electric Co. and Rolls Royce.

The two companies — and their allies in Congress — have long sparred over whether competition from the GE-Rolls Royce team would drive down the costs and improve the performance of all the engines built for the program.

The final fiscal 2010 defense authorization bill would authorize $560 million for the GE-Rolls Royce program, aides said.

Obama has sharply criticized the second-engine program, and the administration has threatened a veto over the issue. But Congress kept the second-engine program going over the objections of President George W. Bush , and it may be poised to continue that tradition.

House and Senate conferees on the bill are expected to meet Wednesday to cement their agreement, and the House may vote on it Oct. 8.

The apparent decision to back the second engine provides momentum for the GE-Rolls Royce program ahead of a House-Senate conference on the fiscal 2010 Defense appropriations bill that will probably get under way later this month.

“The White House has 24 hours to turn this thing around behind the scenes,” said an aide who supports the single-engine approach. “Will they do it? Or will this be just another moment when Congress dismisses the president’s agenda?”

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