* Top weapon buyer critical of Pratt engine cost
* But repeats criticism of alternate engine efforts
(Adds Pratt & Whitney reaction, paragraphs 7-9)
By Jim Wolf
WASHINGTON, April 13 The top U.S. arms buyer
said he was dissatisfied with cost overruns in the United
Technologies Corp (UTX.N) Pratt & Whitney engine powering the
multinational F-35 fighter jet.
But Ashton Carter, undersecretary of defense for
acquisition, repeated Pentagon opposition to funding an
alternate engine being developed by General Electric Co (GE.N)
and Britain's Rolls-Royce Plc (RR.L).
"I'm not happy, as I am with so many parts of all our
programs, with (the P&W engine's) cost performance so far,"
Carter told the House of Representatives Appropriations
subcommittee on defense on Wednesday. "We need to drive the
At stake is potential engine business that the Government
Accountability Office, Congress's audit arm, puts at $62
billion in 2002 dollars. The Project on Government Oversight
reckons that this equals about $75 billion in 2010 dollars.
The Pentagon ordered GE and Rolls-Royce to stop building
the alternate engine last month, but the companies said they
would spend their own money to keep it alive. The Pentagon has
sought for five years to kill the engine as an economy
Carter, in reply to a question from Representative Norm
Dicks, a Washington Democrat, said costs were growing too fast
for both the engine and the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter aircraft,
being built by Lockheed Martin Corp (LMT.N). The air frame's
cost overruns were proportionately higher than the engine's,
Pratt & Whitney said in response that a U.S. Defense
Department "Joint Assessment Team" in 2009 had confirmed that
its cost-reduction plan was "executable and we are on plan."
The company's most recent contract proposal for its next
batch of engines offered a 16 percent savings over the previous
batch, added Stephanie Duvall, a spokeswoman. It also moved to
a fixed-price contract from an earlier "cost-plus" deal that
covered expenses plus a profit no matter how it performed.
GE has said its F136 engine is meeting or beating
expectation while Pratt & Whitney's had cost overruns of $3.4
billion. Pratt has attributed $2.7 billion of the overruns to
changes requested by the Pentagon.
Representative Jim Moran, a Virginia Democrat, told Carter
that the alternate engine is "not a dead issue."
"It still has substantial support," Moran said. Separately,
Moran told Reuters that Representative Howard McKeon, chairman
of the House Armed Services Committee, would seek to renew the
alternate engine's funding in the House's version of the fiscal
2012 defense spending bill.
A spokesman for McKeon, a California Republican, could not
immediately confirm plans to put funding back.
"However, it is no secret that Chairman McKeon believes
that funding the F136 engine would provide for greater
accountability, better performance, and lower costs over the
life of the Joint Strike Fighter program," the spokesman, Josh
Holly, said in an email.
The Pentagon calculates it would cost $2.9 billion more to
develop the alternate engine so it could compete against Pratt
& Whitney's, which already powers early F-35 production
"Our analysis does not show the payback," Carter told the
subcommittee. He added that "people of good will come to
different conclusions on this issue."
(Reporting by Jim Wolf; Editing by Steve Orlofsky and Tim