F-35 fighters stir political battle in Canada

The first taste of war for the F-35 joint strike fighter is years ahead, if ever, but the Lockheed Martin-developed-and-built jet is engulfed in political combat.

Pentagon officials Thursday ordered General Electric and Rolls-Royce to stop work on an alternative engine for the F-35, a move that congressional critics said won't be the last word on the subject.

And Canada's Parliament is expected to vote today on a no-confidence motion that would topple the government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper and force new elections, in part because opponents say the administration has not been honest about the cost of buying F-35s.

The Pentagon's order to halt work on the GE/Rolls F136 engine is the latest action in a long-running conflict.

Since 2006, under both Defense Secretary Robert Gates and his predecessor Donald Rumsfeld, the Defense Department has tried to kill the alternative engine as a way of freeing up funds for other purposes, including paying for soaring F-35 development costs. Gates said recently that canceling the F136 engine could save $3 billion.

It's a fight that has pitted GE supporters, including House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Rep. Howard McKeon, R-Calif., chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, against the Pentagon and Pratt & Whitney and its political supporters, Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., foremost among them.

McKeon said in a statement that the fight would go on. "Regardless of the convenient arguments utilized by the Department of Defense and others, canceling the engine competition and awarding a sole-source, never-competed contract constitutes the largest earmark in the history of the Department of Defense. Going forward, we will explore all legislative options available to us to maintain engine competition in the largest acquisition program in U.S. history."

Congress, which has not passed a full 2011 defense budget and has yet to take up the 2012 budget, could appropriate funds and order the Pentagon to continue work on the second engine.

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