March 14, 2006 (by Jeff Hollenbeck) - The U.S. Senate is scheduled to hold hearings this week concerning the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter's engine suppliers - namely whether two suppliers are needed for the project.
GE-RR F136 protoype [USAF photo]
The latest budget proposal from the White House would cancel further spending for development and production of a second engine for the F-35. General Electric and Rolls Royce have been contracted to make a competing engine to Pratt & Whitney's F-135, but that contract is now in jeopardy.
While cancelling the competing engine would save money, some in the defense industry and in various armed forces around the world scheduled to receive the Joint Strike Fighter have concerns with only having a single engine supplier. Aside from the potential of eventual cost savings through competition between the different manufacturers, having two different suppliers provides protection from a possible grounding of all F-35 aircraft in the future due to design or performance problems with one of the engines.
Technical details and production cost in hard currency are not the only concerns to be addressed in the hearings. Many on Capitol Hill are also worried about the impact on U.S. relations with Great Britain if the contract for the G.E. and R.R. F-136 engine is cancelled as it could have a signifigant economic impact on a strong U.S. ally.
The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is set to enter service with Great Britain's Royal Navy and Royal Air Force along with the United States Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps sometime before 2010.