By DAN SEWELL, Associated Press

CINCINNATI (AP) _ GE Aviation has abandoned efforts to use its own funding to keep alive development of its alternate engine for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, a spokesman said Friday, effectively ending the project.

The unit of the General Electric Co. has decided its offer to pay for continued development didn’t make business sense, spokesman Rick Kennedy said. Because of increased commercial business at the unit, based in the northern Cincinnati suburb of Evendale, there was no immediate job loss, he said.

However, he said, GE Aviation would have added some 500 jobs if the project had continued.

“It’s a missed opportunity for southwest Ohio, definitely,” Kennedy told The Associated Press.

He said some 800 jobs related to the project have been absorbed into other programs.

The Department of Defense in both the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations had declined to include the alternate in its recent budgets, calling it unneeded spending. Members of Ohio’s congressional delegation from both parties had pushed for funding and to keep the program alive.

But the House voted in February to cancel $450 million in funding for the alternative engine, deciding the project could be sacrificed for the larger effort to rein in the federal deficit. After the Defense subsequently terminated the program, GE Aviation said it would continue working on the project with partner Rolls-Royce while self-funding.

“We had offered to develop it on our own dime,” Kennedy said, but he said uncertainty over schedules in the jet fighter program and other issues led GE Aviation to conclude that “the business model just wasn’t there for us to do it.”

The jet fighter’s main engine is built by Pratt & Whitney.

GE Aviation’s F136 engine has been in development for some 15 years. GE and its backers have argued that their alternative would provide competition that would help save taxpayer money _ and add jobs.

“I had hoped that the GE/Rolls-Royce competitive engine could be a model for government-industry partnership to drive down the cost of important weapons systems,” Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon, a California Republican who’s chairman of the Armed Services Committee, said in a statement Friday. He said the discontinued development is “a blow to common-sense acquisition reform” for the Pentagon.

GE Aviation and Rolls-Royce said in a joint statement they are proud of their technology advancements and accomplishments on the F136.

They said six development engines had accumulated more than 1,200 hours of testing since 2009, and that the project had been consistently on schedule and on budget.

GE Aviation had said this year it would take some $1 billion to complete development of the engine.
Contact this reporter at: .

     (Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)


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