* Engine should be "up and running" before end of year
* Analyst says issue raises questions about 2nd engine
(Adds details from GE-Rolls statement, analyst blog)
By Andrea Shalal-Esa
WASHINGTON, Nov 2 General Electric Co (GE.N)
and Rolls-Royce Group PLC (RR.L) said on Monday they will
redesign a small part of the alternate F-35 fighter engine they
are developing, after a nut came loose during testing.
Rick Kennedy, a GE spokesman, told Reuters the companies
expected to have the reworked F136 engine "up and running
before the end of the year."
He said the redesign involves a diffuser that directs air
into the combustor for the engine, and the combustor was
performing as expected.
President Barack Obama last week signed the fiscal 2010
defense authorization law, which authorizes funding for the
second engine despite the administration's drive to eliminate
it in the current fiscal year.
But funding for the program could still be curtailed by
House and Senate appropriators who plan to wrap up their work
on the fiscal 2010 defense appropriations bill this month,
which means any problems with the two F-35 engines are being
Defense Department spokesman Geoff Morrell last week said
the Pentagon remained unhappy about congressional efforts to
continue funding the alternate engine.
Backers of the alternate engine program say the competition
will cut engine costs in the long run and reduce the risk of a
fleet-wide grounding because of any potential design or
Pratt & Whitney, a unit of United Technologies Corp
(UTX.N), builds the primary engine for the F-35 fighter jet
being developed by Lockheed Martin Corp (LMT.N). Its engine has
also encountered problems during testing, necessitating some
Defense analyst Loren Thompson, in a blog on the website of
his Lexington Institute, said on Monday that the GE-Rolls
engine had "run into problems" and "repeated failures,"
incurring four failures during just 52 hours of testing after
nine months of development.
At the same stage, the Pratt & Whitney engine had undergone
700 hours of system design and development (SDD) testing with
no failures, Thompson said.
GE's Kennedy confirmed there had been four issues during 52
hours of testing, but said the GE-Rolls team had done engine
tests for two years and accumulated 800 hours on actual
hardware before the current SDD phase began.
"Thompson is comparing apples to oranges on the SDD test
hours," he said, noting that the two teams' system design and
development phases were "different because of different funding
Kennedy said the Pratt engine also continued to experience
problems after 10,000 hours of testing. "I raise this not to
challenge Pratt & Whitney's ability, but to underscore how
difficult developing these engines truly is," he said.
He also denied that rising costs on the F-35 program were
due to the alternate engine.
Thompson said continued funding for the second engine was
problematic, since it also raised the prospect for more design
issues. "With several billion dollars remaining to be spent
before the alternate engine joins the fleet, there is still
time to rethink whether a second engine is really needed,"
(Reporting by Andrea Shalal-Esa; Editing by Tim Dobbyn)