Center for American Progress

Buying Second Engine For F-35 Wastes Money, Hurts Military

Buying Second Engine For F-35 Wastes Money, Hurts Military

Lawrence J. Korb and Loren Thompson write in a Lexington Institute issue brief that the purchase of a second F-35 Joint Strike Fighter engine is a waste of money and may not help meet military needs.

The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is being developed to replace most of the Cold War tactical aircraft operated by three U.S. military services and nine allies. The success of the program depends on holding down costs. However, House backers of an unneeded "alternate engine" for the single-engine F-35 are threatening to withhold money for the fighter unless their pet project is funded—a move that potentially drives up the cost of each plane in the program. In effect, the legislators are trying to hold hostage the modernization of military air fleets to assure their home states get jobs at the expense of taxpayers and our war fighters.

Supporters of the alternate engine say they want the military to buy two engines for the F-35 so there can be competitions to discipline price and performance. However, military and civilian officials in the Pentagon have been telling Congress since 2007 that the plan is likely to backfire, because it would force the government to pay for two production lines, two supply networks, and two workforces while reducing the volume of work given to either team. Most of the outside analysts who have looked at the alternate engine agree, finding that billions of dollars in up-front costs might never be recovered, and that fielding two different engines for the same plane would complicate wartime logistics.

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Lawrence J. Korb

Senior Fellow