Apr 26, 2011 By Guy Norris, Graham Warwick Aviationweek.com
In a widely expected move, the U.S. Defense Department has officially terminated the General Electric/Rolls-Royce F136. But the companies have vowed to fight to restore funding for the Joint Strike Fighter alternate engine in the fiscal 2012 budget, indicating a willingness to help fund the remaining development.
The termination notice follows a “stop-work” order issued on March 24 by Pentagon acquisition chief Ashton Carter, pending final resolution of funding for the alternate engine in the fiscal 2011 budget.
As the final 2011 budget agreement contained no funding for the alternate engine, the Defense Department says “Carter directed the JSF Joint Program Office to cease all activity on the F136 development, and ... to terminate the F136 contract.”
“While we are deeply disappointed by the DOD’s notice of termination, GE and Rolls-Royce remain committed to the F136,” the team says, adding it “will work closely with our congressional supporters during the 2012 budget process in pursuit of incorporating the engine into the program, and preserving competition.”
Citing “bipartisan support for the engine on the merits of its performance and value,” GE/Rolls says “there is a significant willingness in Congress to revisit the F136 funding debate as the consequences of terminating the engine are being fully understood.”
The engine team plans to comply with the termination notice, but says that, “throughout that process, GE and Rolls-Royce will take all necessary steps to ensure that the F136 assets and intellectual property are protected. More than $200 million in F136 hardware is located in 17 facilities, including nine engines under various stages of assembly.”
The decision leaves Pratt & Whitney’s F135 as the sole engine for the F-35. Pratt parent company United Technologies immediately declared termination of the competitive engine a “victory” for U.S. taxpayers.
GE and Rolls have been spending company money to keep the 100-person F136 engineering team together while they have worked with supporters in Congress on efforts to get funding for the alternate engine restored in the fiscal 2012 budget.
Hoping to see funding in fiscal 2011, GE/Rolls had agreed to self-fund work on the F136 for up to 90 days after the Pentagon issued the stop-work order. That order prevented the companies from touching the government-owned engine hardware or having contact with the F-35 joint program office, so the core engineering team has been working on design improvements based on data from engine tests this year.
In a letter emailed to employees earlier April 25, before the termination notice was issued, GE Chairman Jeff Immelt says “we are discussing with our supporters in Congress how GE can help fund some of the remaining F136 development costs.”
If the key congressional committees decide that the F136 team will have to contribute significantly to development funding for the alternate engine program to be restored in fiscal 2012, “GE and Rolls-Royce will readily have that discussion,” says a spokesman for GE Aviation.