At Long Last, Congress Strips Funding For Second F-35 Engine

Thanks to the help of a group of Tea Party Freshman in the House. Congress has finally cut off funding for a second engine for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter that the Pentagon never wanted.

During his testimony before the House Armed Services Committee today. Secretary Of Defense Robert Gates renewed his call to Congress to eliminate the second engine for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter:

Defense Secretary Robert Gates on Wednesday called on lawmakers to end a second F-35 engine program whose completion would “waste” $3 billion.


The secretary also used his opening remarks to deliver another blow to a program to design a second engine for the F-35 fighter.

Pentagon officials — and two administrations — have for years tried ending the alternate engine, being built by Rolls-Royce and General Electric. Officials say it is too costly and not needed because the primary power plant, being developed by Pratt & Whitney, is sound.

Gates on Wednesday called the second engine “unnecessary and extravagant.”

 The secretary said it costs “$28 million a month” and completing it would “waste $3 billion.” The nation’s fiscal situation makes that unaffordable, DoD brass say.

It was the second time in as many public appearances that Gates has called on lawmakers to end the project.

As he spoke about the second engine, several new Republican members of the panel listened intently.

When Gates delivered the “$3 billion” remark, several new members appeared to jot down that figure.

All eyes are on new members when it comes to the fate of that project and a list of other defense spending issues.

House Budget Committee Chairman Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) on Wednesday said he wants the second engine canceled, providing a powerful voice to opponents of the project.

The full House on Wednesday is expected to vote on an amendment to a 2011 continuing resolution that would strip funding now in that measure for the alternate power plant.

This controversy has been going on for years, and General Electric/Rolls Royce have garnered significant support on Capitol Hill due to the fact that they’ve managed to arrange for the engine to be manufactured in various parts of the country that, just coincidentally of course, happen to be located in Congressional Districts represented by people like John Boehner, Eric Cantor, and several long-time members of the Armed Services Committee of both parties. Technical issues aside, though, the Pratt & Whitney engine won the bidding process and the Pentagon has said repeatedly that it has no use for a second engine for the plane from a completely different manufacturer. The fact that the program has managed to survive this long is a testament to the power of pork-barrel politics, and the ability of a high powered defense contractor to win support on in Congress simply be currying favor with a few powerful members. Clearly, the system is broken.

Fortunately, Gates’s strategy of appealing to House Freshman elected on fiscal responsibility platforms succeeded in defeating funding for the wasteful program:

The House rejected funding for a second engine for the armed forces’ new jet fighter on Wednesday, dealing a potentially lethal blow to a multi-billion dollar military program that employs hundreds of people in Massachusetts.

By a 233 to 199 vote, the House approved a budget amendment stripping funds for the F-35’s backup engine. The vote does not mean that the measure is dead; after the House votes on hundreds of other amendments, the temporary spending measure for this year goes to the Senate. That body rejected the funding last year.

Still, the vote threw into sharp relief the power of the new GOP freshman in the House, many of whom were elected with Tea Party support on promises to end earmarks and cut spending. Many also saw the vote as a test of their willingness to reduce military spending.

Some of those freshman have aligned with opponents of the extra engine, which include President Obama and the Pentagon, in decrying the engine as a waste of taxpayer money. On Wednesday morning, Defense Secretary Gates reiterated his opposition to the House Armed Services Committee, calling it an “unnecessary and extravagant expense.”

So finally, after several years of fighting, the “alternative engine” boondoggle appears to be dead. It’s only $3 Billion, but it’s a start, and I think the House Freshman who joined to defeat it deserve credit for doing the right thing.

FILED UNDER: Congress, Military Affairs, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Vast Variety says:

    About freaking time.

  2. Ben Wolf says:

    The primary engine is underpowered.

    But then again, the entire plane is underpowered. Can’t carry much ordinance, not particularly stealthy, and way too fragile for the air-to-ground role.

    It would be nice if congress would cancel the whole thing.

  3. jwest says:

    “General Electric/Rolls Royce have.. just coincidentally of course… managed to arrange for the engine to be manufactured in.. Congressional Districts represented by.. John Boehner, Eric Cantor…….”

    Wow. If someone unfamiliar with this subject were to read this article as their sole source for information, they would be led to believe this was a shady Republican deal. As a four year old program, the folks at GE must have a crystal ball to predict the takeover of the House last November.

    Let’s see who was pushing this expensive program the Pentagon doesn’t want.

    “Sens. John Kerry, Patrick Leahy and Sherrod Brown signed a letter in Washington, D.C. stating that Congress intended to fund the engine program through March 4, despite the Pentagon’s opposition to it.”

    Also, I seem to remember a fairly big majority of Democrats when this program was put in place 4 years ago.

    No need to mention anything like that, right Doug?

  4. ponce says:

    “the entire plane is underpowered”

    Yeah, but who cares?

    The U.S. Air Force hasn’t needed a fighter that can dogfight in 40 years.

    Why not just scrap the F-35 and develop a pilotless fighter that would be cheaper and run rings around the F-35?

  5. Richard Gardner says:

    Back when I was in the Pentagon, a mandatory slide in any program budget presentation (PPT) was a listing or map stating in what states the money would be spent. It didn’t state the Congressional District, but usually listed the cities.

  6. Matt B says:

    @Jwest –

    The fact that democrats supported this project isn’t the issue here. The congressional record isn’t available yet, but when it comes out, and if Mssr. Bohner’s vote is under the “Yea” column, it is important from the perspective that it’s another sign that what is “cut-able pork” in someone else district is “bringing home much needed jobs and returning tax payer funds” in your own. BTW, the argument has been made that this was much more of a “regional deal” rather than a Democrat or Republican issue.

    To their credit, a number of first term Representatives with R’s next to their name are living up to campaign promises to cut waste (at least when it happens in other districts). And those Republican’s, who’ve been in the house long enough to reach leadership positions, appear to be “reaping the whirlwind” that they sewed over the last few years.

    The question is what will be the political fallout for those freshmen who broke party lines on this (and other votes). In some respects, the Republican party, thanks to the current insurgence, has taken a step towards the disorganization of the Democrats. Historically, action was taken to get defectors back in line – but that might not be possible this time.

    For the moment however, all I can say is “Thanks” to those recently elected folks who are keeping the faith. If they hold strong, maybe there’s a chance for much needed change.

  7. jwest says:


    I’m in complete agreement with the cuts and know full well that the support for this boondoggle was regionally bipartisan.

    My objection was with the way Doug wrote his portion of the article, leading people to believe this was primarily a Boehner/Cantor program.

    This article was probably written well enough for the NY Times, but the citizen-editors of OTB will not let something this blatant to slip by.

  8. wr says:

    Another big loss for Boehner. Is he the most impotent speaker ever?

  9. Matt B says:

    @jwest — This was *heavily* supported by Boehner – it gets back to the issue of the localness of pork and how his calling for it’s elimination means getting rid of the pork going on in *his* district.

    There’s no way to spin it. If he voted for it (the roll’s not yet available) then he’s some combination of the below:
    a. cares more about his home district than the financial good of the nation (which according to the last election cycle, IS the good of the nation).
    b. cares about the nation but doesn’t want to piss off his voters (meaning that he’s being a politician)
    c. truly believes that we cannot cut *any* military spending
    d. in the pocket of defense lobbyists.

    Note that none of these are necessarily mutually exclusive. Leaving aside “d”, “c” is problematic because anyone whose intellectually honest has to admit that the big problem is Military and fixed entitlement spending. So that means that he’s not the right person to get done what needs to be done.

    If you’re pragmatic, you might say that “B” is OK, ’cause it’s just him being a “good” politician.

    The problem is that Mssrs. B and C have just led a “revolution” (if one buys the hype) on the idea of “ideological purity” – i.e. “we’re not RINO’s, we’re not Politicians, what we say MUST match what we DO, that for the good of the nation, we need to make local sacrifices.” Purity is the polar opposite of Pragmatism (the latter always being the path of “INO’s” of all stripes).

    The critical point Doug is making is that you can’t have it both ways. Pretty much any vote for this project is a vote against ideological purity and is a *big* step towards demonstrating that the Speaker is a RINO.

  10. Wayne says:

    How good would a pilotless fighter be against a decent military with jamming capabilities?

  11. ponce says:

    “How good would a pilotless fighter be against a decent military with jamming capabilities?”

    The pilot A.I. needs no input that can be jammed.

  12. Brett says:

    Officials say it is too costly and not needed because the primary power plant, being developed by Pratt & Whitney, is sound.

    They hope. Of course, since we’re ultimately going to have a fleet of these things, it might be helpful to have an alternate engine in case they discover something wrong with the primary engine and have to ground the entire fleet of them.

  13. Ben Wolf says:

    “For the moment however, all I can say is “Thanks” to those recently elected folks who are keeping the faith. If they hold strong, maybe there’s a chance for much needed change.”

    Killing the engine is a fiscal fraud. The F-35 program costs are now projected to reach $380 billion, twice the original cost estimate. Anyone serious about deficit reduction would make an effort to kill the entire thing.

    We would have been better off with a redesign of the F-15 and A-10.

  14. Steven Plunk says:

    Everything should be on the table for cuts. I don’t know the details of this system and I’m sure convincing arguments could be made by both sides but regardless it should be discussed and evaluated. No more sacred cows in the budget.

  15. Matt B says:

    @Ben, Fair. That said, while I don’t think we should start fellating each other or anything, dismissing this as “fiscal fraud” seems overly harsh. I’m willing to be happy about a baby step of any sort (I’m not going to pretend that this is finishing a marathon either).

    The fact is that this was approved a year ago (and for those keeping count, it was done with all but equal numbers of “R” and “D” yea’s, +1R I believe) and wasn’t this year.

    As for the redesign, what can I say, I wish Ike has stuck with the (possibly Apocryphal-but-still-true) original “Military/Industrial/Congressional” Complex.

  16. Wayne says:

    Re “The pilot A.I. needs no input that can be jammed”

    You have been watching too much Battlestar Galactica.

    A drone can be program for a very define bombing run or reconnaissance sweep but those are very static situations. Close air support or a dog fight which are both in constant flux would require at least one remote pilot. That pilot would require communication with that drone. Communications can be jammed even satellites ones.

    Please don’t think that what we can do in a low intensity conflict will work in a moderate or high intensity one.

  17. ponce says:

    “You have been watching too much Battlestar Galactica. ”

    Nope, just been watching “Jeopardy”

    Pilots are obsolete.

  18. Wayne says:

    Can you show me one example of an A.I. Pilot winning a dogfight or performing close air support?

    Remember we are not talking theory but real world. Some day it may happen but not today. The U.S. A.F. estimates 2047 which may be wishful thinking. Until it happens Pilots are not obsolete and its theory. Fantasies may be real in liberal minds but they don’t cut it for those who have to deal with reality.

  19. Matt B says:

    Quick note for those playing at home, the role is out:

    Cantor did vote against the cut.

    As for Boehner, as it turns out, the Speaker rarely votes on issues (or, in theory, engages in on-the-floor debate) — I did not know that — so he didn’t participate in the vote.

    Source on that last bit:

  20. The Q says:

    Out of the wilderness, a beacon of hope….

    Mr. Plunk wrote: “Everything should be on the table for cuts.”

    I disagree with just about everything Mr. Plunk has written (see Curveball and Mr. Plunk’s defense of Iraq intervention as latest example) but supporting cuts in the Pentagon budget by such conservative stalwarts as Mr. Plunk shows that the defense budget and the wars are seriously eroding right wing support for the previously sacrosanct idea of giving the Pentagon everything it wants to defend our “freedom” and “security” at the cost of bankrupting our economy.

    I applaud his open-mindedness on this issue….now if we can just work on getting him to admit there weren’t any serious WMDs in Iraq and that Bush and Co. heavily stretched the truth (read lie) to convince fine men like Mr. Plunk to support their putative certainty, perhaps there is hope for this great republic after all.

  21. Wiley Stoner says:

    Jeff Imelt supports Obama, Imelt is CEO of GE, is an advisor to the President and was an alternate builder of an engine we do not need? Ah, the benefits of being an Obama supporter. Anything green being developed by GE with the help ot our tax dollars? Can you spell corrupt?