Statement Of Senator Patrick Leahy On The F-35 Alternate Engine Program

MR. PRESIDENT, I strongly support the alternate engine for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. The evidence and the logic for an alternate engine easily overwhelm the flawed arguments that have been used to attack it. Investments in fighter engine competition will reduce costs over the life of the F-35 program. Not only will competition cost less than a single engine monopoly; competition also forces contractors to be more responsive and reliable. And the F-35 will comprise a vast percentage of the U.S. strike aircraft fleet. With just one engine, our national security would rest on a single point of failure. Sole-sourcing the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter engine is simply the wrong decision for our country, and I am glad that the Continuing Resolution will preserve funding for this program through March.

Though misinformation has been spread about the costs of the alternate engine, multiple nonpartisan reports suggest that it is highly likely to save taxpayer dollars. According to Government Accountability Office testimony, the Congress can reasonably expect to recoup investment costs over the life of the program. If the so-called “Great Engine War” of the F-16 program is any example, the F-35 alternate engine might even yield 30 percent cumulative savings for acquisition, 16 percent savings in operations and support, and 21 percent savings over the life cycle of the aircraft. Not only would we sacrifice these potential savings by killing the F-35 alternate engine program, but that decision would waste the investment we have already made in a competitive second engine. Ending fighter engine competition for the F-35 is pound foolish without even being penny wise.

GAO also points to several possible non-financial benefits of engine competition, including better system performance, increased reliability and improved contractor responsiveness. News reports about the broader F-35 program reveal what happens when we sole-source crucial large, multi-year defense programs. The F-35 faces a range of unanticipated problems, delays and cost overruns. Even the independent panel on the 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review — led by President Clinton’s Defense Secretary, William Perry, and President Bush’s National Security Advisor, Stephen Hadley — strongly advocated dual-source competition in major defense programs. Without competition, the American people will keep paying more and more to buy less and less.

Without competition, our country’s strike aircraft would be one engine problem away from fleet-wide grounding. Putting all of our eggs in the single engine basket would elevate risks to our troops and their missions. Imagine our soldiers in Afghanistan stranded without air support simply because we were not wise enough to diversify the program to avoid engine-based groundings. With their lives on the line, we cannot afford to be irresponsible with this program.

The Continuing Resolution appropriately maintains funding for the alternate engine program.  It does not allow for so-called “new starts,” but neither does it bring programs to a premature end without the debate and full consideration here in the Congress that they deserve.  The alternate engine program will rightly continue, and I expect that when programs receive scrutiny during budget consideration next spring, the same will also be the case.

Ensuring engine competition is the right thing to do because it is the smart thing to do. Although some have stressed the up-front costs, taxpayers stand to save more money over the life of the F-35 program by maintaining competitive alternatives. Most importantly, we will purchase a better and more reliable product for the people who risk their lives to defend our country. I will continue to support engine competition that ensures the best product for the troops at the best price for the taxpayer.

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