military has been working on the most expensive weapons program in U.S. history
for years now. That program is the F-35 Lighting II (Joint Strike Fighter) that
will see action eventually in all branches of the U.S. military and will find
its way to allied nations as well. The F-35 program has had more than its share
of setbacks, and not all of those setbacks were issues with the aircraft. Many
of the setbacks have come at the hands of lawmakers and budget cuts.
The House is set to vote
on a critical funding bill that has serious implications on the future
of the F-35 program. The budget has a provision in it for the continued
development and deployment of an alternative engine for the F-35 to go along
side the Pratt
& Whitney F135 jet engine. The alternative engine is from GE and Rolls
Royce and will be built in Ohio, and Indiana. The F135 engine is constructed in
Florida and Texas. The engine vote is under pressure because many lawmakers in
the House feel that adding a second engine to the program wastes taxpayer money
and the House is looking to pare all it can from the budget for the year.
The spending measure the House is voting on has $450 million set aside for the
GE and Rolls-Royce engine. The thing that has defense contractors nervous is
that many of the House lawmakers are in their freshman terms and haven’t yet
voted on the program. That means where the votes will lie on the second engine
are more unknown than in previous votes.
Rep. Bob Dold, R-Ill, in his first term, said, "We have to step forward,
we have to cut back on areas, and this is an area that the secretary of defense
said we need to cut back on."
Debate on the bill is expected to continue all week and cuts on the alternative
F-35 engine aren’t the only things on the chopping block as the House looks to
cut billions from the budget. The cuts will also affect the Peace Corps, the
EPA, and many more programs that currently receive federal funding. The White
House has already warned the House that it would mount "strong
opposition" to legislation that would undermine core government functions
and investments in job growth.
While the future of the alternative F-35 engine in question, the F-35 program
itself moves on. The Air Force has announced that it will begin
to train instructor pilots on the F-35 before the end of 2011. The
first F-35 aircraft will be delivered to the 33rd Fighter Wing at Eglin Air Force
Base. The first round of aircraft will be the F-35A conventional take off and
landing versions and 20 of the jets are expected in the first round of
Vice Adm. Dave Venlet said, "We're going to put them in the hands of the
fleet and the Air Force is going to be operating [Conventional take-off and
landing aircraft] in training at Eglin before the year ends."
Defense News notes that it is uncommon for aircraft to be delivered
to line pilots before formal operational testing is completed. However, a
shortened informal test will be conducted before the 33rd pilots take delivery
of the aircraft. Venlet said, "It's not a full operational test, it
doesn't resolve any measures of effectiveness."
Venlet also noted that he expects the F-35B STOVL aircraft will have sea-trials
with the Marine Corps this fall. The F-35B has been the most trouble prone of
all the aircraft and has been put on a probationary
status though the aircraft has made successful vertical