Yesterday, the Senate voted down a provision in the FY2010 defense budget that would continue to fund an alternate engine for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. Earlier this month, AMVETS drafted a letter to House appropriators, asking them to support the Pentagon's decision to scrap the wasteful program. While the controversial provision passed in the House, the Senate's decision to squash the program could now set the stage for a contentious conference on the budget.
According to the letter from AMVETS National Headquarters, AMVETS wants to see the Pentagon focus on mission-critical acquisitions for the Department of Defense. The Pentagon has been trying to kill the alternative engine program since 2006, when the Bush Administration first labeled the program as wasteful.
However, Congress continued to tack on the provision, wasting millions of dollars in taxpayer money for a program that America's top military minds say they do not want.
Over the last few weeks, top brass from all branches set to receive versions of the Joint Strike Fighter have discussed exactly why the program would cripple military readiness. Air Force Gen. Mark Shackelford said that the alternate engine program would delay the timely delivery of more than 50 fighters to the Air Force's already-strained fleet of fighter jets.
The Navy said it cannot possibly maintain multiple engine systems for its fleet of Joint Strike Fighters during sea-based operations.
Finally, the Marine Corps called for an end to the alternative engine program, since the funding would be diverted from the badly-needed H1 helicopter program. In a recent letter to Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), who sponsored the amendment to kill the alternate engine program, Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Conway said that the helicopter programs needed to continue unabated, or the Corps risked relying on a fleet long-overdue for retirement to transport Marines on and off the battlefield.
Conway's comments struck a particular chord with AMVETS leaders who had served in the Marine Corps, such as AMVETS Legislative Director Ray Kelley.
"Conway's comments only reiterate what we heard from Secretary Gates on this issue--one dollar of pork is a dollar that we can't spend on our Marines," Kelley said. "I was happy to see the Senate vote responsibly on this issue, and we must continue to ensure that the next defense budget represents the best interests of our military."
Proponents of the alternate engine have stirred tension over potential job losses in a tough economy. However, executives from GE-Rolls Royce, the contractor for the alternate engine, confirmed before the Senate that the company's industrial base would not be threatened, should the program be terminated. In addition, the program remains in the development phase, with a large portion of the work set to be shipped overseas, should the project advance.
AMVETS will continue to push members of the House to support the Pentagon's position on this issue. Continued development of the alternative engine will siphon billions of badly-needed defense dollars to a program that threatens the well-being of our troops on the ground.
American Veteran will continue to track this story, as it develops. In the meantime, we're eager to hear what you have to say about the issue.