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Britain May Quit Jet Fighter Project

March 15, 2006

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Britain may pull out of a multinational jet fighter project if the Bush administration goes through with its plan to eliminate funding for a backup engine for the aircraft, Britain’s defense procurement minister said Tuesday.

Britain was not consulted about the decision involving the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, Lord Peter Drayson said. His government would have serious concerns about sharing important information on the project should the second engine be scrubbed, he said at a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

``Without the technology transfer to give us aircraft that are fit to fight on our terms, we will not be able to buy this aircraft,″ Drayson said. He said Britain had expected to be consulted before cuts were proposed for the engine program.

The schedule for the project would have the engine made mainly in Ohio by General Electric Aviation and Britain’s Rolls-Royce.

Britain was the first country to sign on with the United States, in 2001, for a project that now includes eight nations besides the U.S. Britain’s memorandum of understanding committed it for $2 billion to buy about 150 planes. If made, the engines would cost $7 million to $9 million each.

The proposed administration action would reverse a $2 billion research and development contract signed last summer by General Electric and Rolls-Royce. Testing of the engine is to begin in 2008.

The main engine is being made by Pratt & Whitney.

Sen. John Warner, R-Va., chairman of the Armed Services Committee and a former secretary of the Navy, called the hearing because he questions the administration’s decision to cut the program to save about $1.8 billion this year. He said that ignores potential cost savings and quality improvements over the 30-year contract.

But Sen. Joe Lieberman, who represents Connecticut, the home state of Pratt & Whitney, defended the Bush administration’s stance. The Democrat said Pratt & Whitney has won the competition to make the engine, and a second engine no longer would offer competitive advantages.

GE Aviation spokesman Rick Kennedy disagreed. He said the ``great engine wars″ competition for military contracts that began in the 1980s have saved the U.S. government 20 percent on the cost of equipment. Based on that history, Kennedy said, the continuing competition on the Joint Strike Fighter engine could save as much as $12 billion.

Australian military officials testified Tuesday that they supported a second engine so long as it did not raise the cost or lower the capabilities of the aircraft.

Italian Lt. Gen. Giuseppe Bernardis, who heads procurement for Italy’s armament programs, told the hearing, ``This should be a U.S. decision only, and Italy will adhere to it.″

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