* Gates calls Senate to reject "unnecessary extra engine"
* McCain calls F-35 program "incredible waste" of money"
By Andrea Shalal-Esa
WASHINGTON, Feb 17 Defense Secretary Robert
Gates urged U.S. senators on Thursday to join the U.S. House of
Representatives in eliminating funding for a second engine for
the Lockheed Martin Corp (LMT.N) F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.
The Pentagon scored a victory on Wednesday in its five-year
battle to kill that program when the House voted 233 to 198 to
eliminate $450 million in fiscal 2011 funding for the engine
being developed by General Electric Co (GE.N) and Britain's
Rolls-Royce Plc (RR.L) as an alternate to an engine built by
United Technologies Corp (UTX.N) unit Pratt & Whitney.
Gates welcomed the vote on the amendment and said he hoped
the Senate would support the move by House lawmakers.
"I also would express the hope that the Senate will
continue to reject the unnecessary extra engine for the F-35 as
it did the last time the Senate spoke to this issue, in 2009,"
Gates told the Senate Armed Services Committee.
The Defense Department has tried to kill the program since
2007, but Republican and Democratic lawmakers have repeatedly
added funding for it back into the defense budget.
While the Obama administration welcomed the House vote on
the second engine amendment, the issue is far from settled.
The White House has issued a veto threat against the
overall bill, which would cut about $61.5 billion from the
fiscal 2011 budget, and Senate Democrats have sharply
criticized the bill.
"This is far from done," said a spokesman for the House
Armed Services Committee, whose Republican chairman, Howard
McKeon, backed continued work on the GE-Rolls engine.
He said the money stripped from the engine program would go
to deficit reduction, not back to the Pentagon, just as Gates
was warning lawmakers that the Pentagon faced a crisis if it
did not receive additional funds for the rest of fiscal 2011.
Senator Carl Levin, the committee's chairman, and Daniel
Inouye, chairman for the Senate Appropriations Committee, have
long supported funding for the GE-Rolls engine, arguing that
maintaining competition would save money in the long run.
Senator John McCain, the top Republican on the Senate Armed
Services Committee, backs the Pentagon's effort to scrap the
alternate engine, and said he remains deeply concerned about
the overall health of the F-35 program given cost increases and
schedule delays in recent years.
"It has been an incredible waste of the taxpayers' dollar
and it hurts the credibility of our acquisition process, our
defense industry," McCain said at the hearing. "It reinforces
the view of some of us that the military-industrial-
congressional complex that President Eisenhower warned us about
is alive and well."
In his prepared remarks, Gates said the program has
received special scrutiny given its huge cost and central
importance to replacing the aging fleet of U.S. fighters.
He repeated his threat to cancel the short-takeoff model of
the fighter that is being built for the Marine Corps.
Navy Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of
Staff, told the committee that decoupling work in the
short-takeoff variant would allow even quicker work on the Navy
and Air Force variants.
"That puts us in a better position to develop the Air Force
and Navy versions sooner," Mullen told the committee.
Pentagon acquisition chief Ashton Carter on Wednesday said
he remained concerned about cost growth on the F-35 program,
and was keeping close tabs on the program.
"I continue to regard the projected acquisition costs and
sustainment costs for the Joint Strike Fighter as too high,"
Carter told a conference sponsored by Aviation Week.
(Reporting by Andrea Shalal-Esa, editing by Gerald E.