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August 26, 2009—In a new Heritage Foundation paper, Mackenzie Eaglen says that Congress should care about sustaining the alternate engine for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter for several reasons, not the least of which is the fact that it's new Weapons Systems Acquisition Reform Act requires "competition for all major subsystems."

Congress has supported the alternate engine—over Pentagon objections—but that may be about to change, given as Eaglen says, "members have largely acquiesced to all of President Obama's defense cuts."

And, the Air Force has said it would have to cut 53 F-35s to keep funding the second engine, but, in Eaglen's view, that just points to the real crux of the problem.

"That debate should be centered squarely where it belongs: in the Air Force budget topline, which is wholly inadequate for what the nation is asking the service to do now and in the future," she writes.   

Eaglen also believes, as do many lawmakers, that if there is a future problem with the JSF engine—the Pratt & Whitney F136—it "could lead to a system-wide grounding of every aircraft until the problem is identified and fixed." That, she writes, is "an unacceptably high risk."

A key supporter of the alternate engine—the General Electric-Rolls Royce F136—has been Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), who heads the Appropriations Committee, but he also advocated buying additional F-22s, only to cave in to the Administration's desire to end Raptor production at 187 aircraft. However, according to a Fox News report, Inouye spokesman Peter Boylan said the Senator still favors the alternate engine if it doesn't cause program delays or cost overruns.