Last week, by a convincing 233-198 margin, the House of Representatives approved a bipartisan amendment to end funding for the extra engine of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. This vote was a critical step toward ending this wasteful program, which our military leaders have said repeatedly they do not want or need.
The amendment, which I sponsored, will save taxpayers $450 million this year alone and billions more in the years to come. After years of throwing good money after bad to fund the extra engine, I am glad the House has finally recognized that the extra engine is a luxury we simply cannot afford. This vote sent a message to the American people that Congress heard their call to eliminate wasteful spending and put an end to business as usual.
If you’re not familiar with this estimated $6 billion earmark, here’s the back story. In 2001, after a competitive bidding process, the Pentagon awarded a contract to build the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter with the F135 engine. However, Congress continued to set aside billions of dollars for another contractor to build an alternate F136 engine. This was highly unusual, since of our 28 military aircraft, only one (the F-16) uses an alternate engine.
President George W. Bush tried to kill the program during his last two years in office, and President Barack Obama last year threatened to veto any legislation that included extra engine funding. Until last week, however, the House continued funding the wasteful program. As a result, taxpayers have already spent approximately $3 billion to develop the extra engine. The Pentagon estimates it will cost an additional $3 billion to complete development. All for an engine our military leaders say they don’t even want.
A defense dollar wasted is one we won’t have for vital equipment to keep our country safe. The Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps have consistently said the extra engine not only wastes scarce dollars, it also complicates their missions.
As Defense Secretary Robert Gates said, “Spending more money on an extra engine simply makes no sense and diverts limited modernization funds from more pressing DoD priorities.” Funding the extra engine, Marine Corps Brig. Gen. David Heinz said, would “take 50 to 80 tails [Joint Strike Fighters] out of the program.”
The Joint Strike Fighter is a crucial link in the defense of freedom. But this particular program does nothing to aid its work. The extra engine will not make our country any safer, but it will take limited resources away from our troops.
I urge the Senate, as it takes up the House spending bill, to follow the House’s lead and end this wasteful program once and for all. If we can’t cut funding for the extra engine program, which is unwanted by our military leaders, how can we convince the American people that we are serious about getting our deficits under control?
Congressman Tom Rooney, a Republican, represents the 16th district of Florida.