Thursday March 24, 2011 | 02:29 PM

Sen. Susan Collins is lauding the Pentagon’s decision to at least temporarily halt work on an alternative engine for the F-35 fighter jet – but the Maine Republican says she will continue efforts to permanently eliminate funding for the “extra” engine.

The main engine for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is partially built at a Pratt & Whitney plant in North Berwick.
 
Last month, Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-1st, joined a bipartisan group of House members who successfully lobbied for passage of an amendment to a broader spending bill, an amendment that eliminated this year’s $450 million allocation for the second engine being built by General Electric Aviation and Rolls Royce. Pingree is a member of the House Armed Services Committee.
 
The second engine does have powerful backers, including House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio. Work on the engine is done at a Cincinnati-area GE plant near Boehner's district.
 
The House bill that slashed the second engine funding, which cut a total of $61 billion for the remainder of the 2011 federal fiscal year that ends Sept. 30, has not been approved by the Senate. But funding for the alternative engine, which opponents say is no longer needed because the main engine has proved itself, is still in limbo for the year, as is funding for a number of defense programs because Congress has proved unable to agree on a final 2011 defense bill.
 
That has kept 2010 spending levels in effect, a situation defense department officials say will force them to cut back a number of weapons programs if it continues much longer.
Collins, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, says a final 2011 defense spending bill is needed – but should not include money for the alternative engine.
 
"I have long called for the elimination of funding for a second F-35 jet engine, which is a wasteful use of taxpayer money," Collins said in a statement.  "As we begin to tackle the mounting debt, we must eliminate programs like this that are duplicative and unnecessary.  I applaud the secretary of defense's decision to halt further development of the extra engine."
 
Secretary of Defense Robert Gates’ order, however, does not eliminate the engine. Gates ordered work on the engine stopped for 90 days as the Pentagon waits to see what Congress does about a final defense spending bill for the year. Gates and other top Pentagon officials, however, have said they no longer think the second engine program is necessary.
 
(Updated at 7 p.m.: Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, in a joint release with Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., also applauded the suspension of work on the second engine.
 
“At a time when our nation’s debt burden exceeds an unsustainable $14 trillion it is incumbent upon the federal government to eliminate wasteful spending and maximize the impact of every dollar spent,” Snowe said in a statement.  “Yet, year after year, some in Congress have continued to pour hundreds of millions of dollars into developing an extra engine for the F-35 that the Department of Defense has not requested, does not need, and does not want. I hope that DOD’s stop-work order will finally put an end to this effort to develop an extra engine that has cost taxpayers far too much money already.”)

 

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Kevin Miller is Washington bureau chief for the Portland Press Herald and MaineToday Media. He has worked as a journalist in Maine for 6 ½ years, covering the environment, politics and the State House. Before arriving in Maine, he wrote about politics, government and education for newspapers in Virginia and Maryland.
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