Recently MO noted that the Pratt & Whitney F135 jet engine for the F-15 Joint Strike Fighter was entering final testing. There is a second engine being developed for the JSF, the F136, by GE and Rolls-Royce. The alternate engine is intended, in part, as a fallback in the event of issues with the F135 and also to spread the dollars around a bit on the US-led program that is getting significant international assistance and promises to bring significant international sales. Cutting the second engine, which is running a couple of years behind the F135, would save billions in development costs. The GE/ Rolls-Royce team recently won a $2.4 billion contract to develop the program, and Ton Blair has written President Bush asking that the alternative engine not be cancelled.
Don’t forget that the US and the UK are at odds over sharing some of the technological information in the JSF program, and that this move to cut the second engine could part of that maneuvering.
The article refers to the F-35 as “the Pentagon’s costliest warplane program”, but keep in mind that they’re referring to the entire program, not the individual planes. The F-22 Raptor is, of course, much more expensive than the F-35, but the total US buy of over 2,000 F-35s swamps the couple hundred F-22s.
Additionally, one or two thousand F-35s are likely to be sold to our allies, though reports claim that Australia may have to cut its planned purchase of 100 Joint Strike Fighters down to 50. The Australian Defence Minister denies the reports, though he says the final number is yet to be determined.