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Dec. 5, 2011—The long battle between the Pentagon and Congress over development of a second engine type for the F-35 strike fighter appears to be over, once and for all.

General Electric and Rolls Royce, partners in the Fighter Engine Team, announced that they will cease self-funding the maturation of their F136 engine at year's end due to "continued uncertainty in the development and production schedules" for the F-35.

"GE and Rolls-Royce are proud of our technology advancements and accomplishments on the F136," said Dan McCormick, FET president, in the Dec. 2 release. "However," he added, "difficult circumstances are converging that impact the potential benefit of a self-funded development effort."

After DOD terminated the F136 contract in April—in favor of proceeding solely with Pratt & Whitney's F135 that is powering F-35s flying today—GE and Rolls Royce said they'd continue funding the F136's development on their own dime through the end of Fiscal 2012.

The companies anticipated that with continued political support on Capital Hill for F-35 engine competition, they'd be able to offer the F136 for future F-35 production lots. But it appears the F136's death knell has now sounded.

"We understand the decision of GE and Rolls-Royce," said Pentagon spokesman George Little during a Dec. 2 press briefing hours after the companies' announcement. "They are two very important industrial partners and they do a lot of work with the Defense Department . . . and we look forward to continuing to work with them." (Press briefing transcript)

The Pentagon leadership maintained for some six years that it could not afford to sponsor the F136 in addition to the F135. Only through congressional budget add-ons did the F136 program survive over that span.

Rep. Buck McKeon (R-Calif.), House Armed Services Committee chairman, called the GE-Rolls Royce move a "blow to common-sense acquisition reform at the Department of Defense." McKeon, who had championed F-35 engine competition and hailed the FET's self-funding initiative, said he "had hoped the GE-Rolls Royce competitive engine could be a model for government-industry partnership to drive down the cost of important weapon systems."

FET's McCormick said the two companies "are deeply grateful to our many congressional supporters on both sides of the aisle over these many years as well as the military experts who have supported competing engines for [the F-35]." Despite the companies' withdrawal, he said they "do not waver" in their belief that "competition is central to meaningful defense acquisition reform."

GE and Rolls Royce worked on the F136 for 15 years in total. At the time of DOD's contract termination, the engine's development was about 80 percent complete, according to the companies. With the self-funding initiative, they had put the engine on a course to complete development in 2016.

Already six F136 development engines had accumulated more than 1,200 hours of testing since early 2009, stated the companies. They said the F136 program "consistently delivered on cost and on schedule and was rewarded with high marks" by DOD.

Stephanie Duvall, Pratt & Whitney military engines spokeswoman, told the Daily Report when asked for comment, that her company remains "focused on delivering F135 engines while lowering costs for our customers, and powering a successful flight test program."

She said, "We are grateful for the continued confidence and support of our DOD customer for the F135 engine."

Pratt already has delivered 37 production F135s and has an F135 team at Eglin AFB, Fla., ready to support F-35 flight training operations, said Duvall.

She noted the recent successful sea trials of the Marine Corps F-35B short takeoff and vertical landing variant—powered by the F-135.