Biden Administration Warns Against Alternate Engine | Citizens Against Government Waste

Biden Administration Warns Against Alternate Engine

The WasteWatcher

The Biden Administration has made its position clear:  Congress should authorize no further funding for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) alternate engine.

The House Armed Services Committee version of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for fiscal year (FY) 2024, H.R. 2670, which is being considered on the floor of the House beginning on July 11, 2023, authorizes $588.4 million for the Adaptive Engine Transition Program (AETP), otherwise known as the alternate engine.  The funding contravenes the Department of Defense (DOD) FY 2024 budget request, which terminated the AETP and asked for $462 million to upgrade the current F-135 engine through the Engine Core Upgrade (ECU).

In its July 10, 2023, White House Statement of Administration Policy on the NDAA, the Biden Administration said it “strongly opposes” the $588.4 million authorization.  The statement added, “There are currently no plans to transition AETP engines to a program of record.  The F135 ECU and F-35 cooling enhancements are more affordable and a common solution across all three F-35 variants.  Continued funding for AETP would defer the transition of a skilled workforce to the Next Generation Adaptive Propulsion (NGAP) program.  This, in turn, would increase the risk that NGAP prototype test results would not be available in time for the [Next Generation Air Dominance] programs and that future NGAD platform capability would be compromised by legacy propulsion constraints.”

The alternate engine would not only endanger the development of next generation aircraft but also require substantial airframe modifications to fit into the F-35A and F-35C, and it is incompatible with the Marine Corp’s F-35B.  Pentagon brass have lined up against the AETP, including Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall who said on March 10, 2023, that the Air Force was the only service that was “seriously interested” in the second engine, and that it would be “very, very difficult, if not impossible” to incorporate the engine into the F-35B. 

The ECU also wins on cost.  Secretary Kendall stated during an April 18, 2023 Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee hearing that the alternate engine would require, “…a large upfront cost associated with engineering, manufacturing and development.”  Funding the engine would necessitate “several billion dollars before you start production.  So that was definitely something that was not affordable.”  It would also mean the Air Force could purchase fewer JSFs.

The Air Force estimates upfront alternate engine development costs would be nearly $6.7 billion, which is 279 percent more than the $2.4 billion development cost for the ECU projected by its manufacturer Pratt & Whitney.  The aerospace firm determined that the ECU would save $40 billion in total JSF program lifecycle costs by, in part, avoiding a duplicative production line and global supply chain to service two separate engines.

The reasons for rejecting the AETP are clear.  Members of Congress should not agree with CAGW Porker of the Month Rep. Rob Wittman (R-Va.) and follow the guidance of the Biden administration and Pentagon officials by stripping the $588.4 million in AETP funding from the NDAA and restoring the DOD budget request for the ECU.  Citizens Against Government Waste successfully led and won the fight to defeat the alternate engine more than a decade ago, and will once again lead the way to prevent finite defense spending being wasted on an unnecessary project.