* Lawmakers weighing cutting funding for alternate engine
* Pentagon says alternate engine won’t create savings
* Republicans trying to cut $61 bln from federal spending
WASHINGTON, Feb 16 (Reuters) - The Pentagon’s drive to kill funding for an alternate F-35 fighter plane engine is based on the “cold analytical judgment” that the money spent now would not pay off in the long run, Defense Undersecretary Ashton Carter said.
“This isn’t a philosophical matter,” the Pentagon’s chief weapons buyer told a conference hosted by Aviation Week. “It’s a cold analytical judgment that the large ... cost of preparing a second engine for completion will not in any way that we can demonstrate be paid over the long term.”
His comments came as U.S. lawmakers prepared to vote on whether to cut $450 million in funding for the interchangeable engine from the rest of fiscal year 2011 as part of a Republican bill to cut $61 billion from federal spending.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates this week described the F-35 engine being developed by General Electric (GE.N) and Britain’s Rolls Royce (RR.L) as “an unnecessary and extravagant expense,” and said he would look at all available legal options to end it.
GE and Rolls Royce are developing the engine as an alternate to an engine built by United Technologies Corp (UTX.N) unit Pratt & Whitney.
Lawmakers, arguing that maintaining competition between the engine teams will save money in the longer term, have continued to fund the controversial program in recent years.
House lawmakers rejected the amendment to strip funding for the program out of a fiscal 2011 funding measure on a voice vote late on Tuesday ahead of a formal vote later Wednesday.
Carter said the department had to make hard choices given the tighter budget environment, weighing which weapons programs were truly needed. “This does not make the cut,” he said.
Gates argues that it would cost $3 billion more to complete the program — money that he wants to spend elsewhere.
Officials at GE and Rolls Royce say investing just $1.8 billion more now could save over $20 billion in the long run by keeping both engine maker teams on their toes.
Vice Admiral David Venlet, director of the Pentagon’s F-35 program, acknowledged on Tuesday that the cost of the primary F-35 engine being built by Pratt & Whitney had risen by nearly $1 billion more as a result of too-optimistic previous cost estimates and to guard against some added risks. (Reporting by Andrea Shalal-Esa, editing by Dave Zimmerman)