Levin Doubts Senate Will Fund General Electric F-35 Engine

Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee Carl Levin said he doubts the Senate will fund the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter alternate engine made by General Electric Co. and Rolls Royce Group Plc.

“I doubt very much that we will do it this year,” said Levin, a Michigan Democrat who has backed the secondary engine project. “We did not pass it last year.”

The U.S. House of Representatives voted Feb. 16 to cut $450 million for the GE-Rolls Royce engine from legislation funding the Pentagon for the rest of the fiscal year ending Sept. 30.

United Technologies Corp.’s Pratt & Whitney unit builds the primary engine for Lockheed Martin Corp.’s stealth fighter plane. Defense Secretary Robert Gates supports the primary engine and has opposed the secondary engine.

The Feb. 16 vote is “not necessarily the final action” in the House on the engine, Levin said. In May, 2010, the House voted 231-193 to continue the program.

Republicans won control of the House of Representatives and gained seats in the Senate in November with candidates who promised to cut spending and reduce the federal deficit.

GE’s Fighter Future

The defeat for the engine program, if sustained, might mean GE’s eventual exit from the fighter-engine business because the F-35 is designed to replace all manned U.S. fighter aircraft. The market has been estimated as high as $100 billion over the life of the F-35, including parts and service.

GE, based in Fairfield, Connecticut, in October reported spending $8.2 million starting in mid-2009 to urge Congress to fund the alternate engine.

About 2,500 jobs, including in Ohio, Massachusetts and South Carolina, are tied to the development of the engine with employment forecast to swell to as much as 4,000 if GE and Rolls-Royce had reached their projected peak production, according to Rick Kennedy, a spokesman for GE Aviation.