A recent guest opinion in the Arizona Capitol Times said: “The government shouldn’t pick winners and losers when it comes to military contractors; the marketplace should.” I could not agree more. However, I must disagree with the author’s statement about Congress being a champion for competition in the case of the Joint Strike Fighter (F-35). In fact, it has been just the opposite.
Congress has been using an earmark to get around the original competition to power the Joint Strike Fighter and has spent more than $1 billion since the Pentagon and President Bush first tried to cancel this program in 2006. In fact, all three F-35 prime contractors chose the Pratt & Whitney engine, though they were allowed to choose any engine they wanted. The competition was fair and square. Simply put, the alternative engine manufacturer is trying to accomplish through legislation what they could not through competition.
Study after study has shown that an alternate engine will not save taxpayer dollars because the government must pay to develop both engines and will also foot the bill for two sets of parts, two production and maintenance lines, and additional personnel and training. The alternate engine will cost taxpayers a minimum of $3 billion over the next five years just to finish development, according to the Department of Defense. At a time when our economy is struggling, unemployment is hovering at 10 percent and the national debt is soaring to record levels, wasting money on something the Pentagon says it doesn’t want or need makes no sense.
At a speech in Phoenix last year, President Obama said, “Think about it. Hundreds of millions of dollars for an alternate second engine for the Joint Strike Fighter—when one reliable engine will do just fine”
The primary F-35 engine has completed thousands of hours of testing, completed more than 160 flights and recently achieved its first vertical landing. The manufacturer has delivered the first-production engines to the customer. By contrast, the alternate engine is five to seven years behind, and hasn’t even begun flight testing. It will be years before it is ready.
This has largely been a debate among beltway insiders, but alternative engine funding could have a negative effect on Luke Air Force Base. Luke Air Force Base is a $2 billion-a-year economic engine for the local economy. Part of Luke’s ability to remain the economic engine that it is hinges on it becoming a bed-down base for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. According to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, if funding for the duplicate engine is included, the progress of the overall F-35 program will be delayed and 50-80 fewer planes could be built.
Should Arizona be honored to host the F-35, the last thing that Arizona needs is to have the F-35 program delayed or the number of aircraft stationed in Arizona reduced.
Both President Bush and President Obama have supported canceling the alternate engine. Last year, 33 Democrats and 26 Republicans in the Senate voted to end the alternate-engine program, so this is not a partisan issue. It is simply a case of wasteful government spending.
To save taxpayer dollars, avoid further program delays and ensure reliability, Congress should heed the Pentagon’s request to pay for just one engine.
— Rep. David Lujan,
a Democrat from Phoenix, is the minority leader in the Arizona House of Representatives.