Blair Presses Bush on Engine Deal

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Blair Presses Bush on Engine Deal

REUTERS, january 3, 2006

LS,
Ter aanvulling op ...
Onderstaand stuk illustreert dat de Amerikaanse plannenmakerij rond de JSF Londen duidelijk niet lekker zit. Eerst al vertrok begin december een Britse topdelegatie spoorslags naar Washington om verhaal te halen n.a.v. de geruchten dat de Amerikaanse staatssecretaris England de CTOL luchtmachtversie van de JSF (die ook Nederland wil kopen) wilde schrappen, nu schrijft Blair persoonlijk een brief om belangrijk banenverlies bij Rolls-Royce te voorkomen. Het Britse ongemak speelt al veel langer in het JSF dossier. Afgelopen zomer nog liet een BAE Systems directeur zich weinig vleiend uit over de weigerachtige Amerikaanse opstelling t.a.v. het delen van technologie.

Niet voor niets dat de Britten (na de VS de grootste participant in het JSF programma) ondertussen uitkijken naar een 'fall-back option' ("Britain's Plan B?", Defense News, 5 december 2005).



British Prime Minister Tony Blair has written to U.S. President George W. Bush to try to save a multibillion-dollar contract to develop an engine for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the Pentagon's costliest warplane program, people familiar with the matter said on Tuesday.
``A letter went from the prime minister to the president shortly before Christmas,'' said a person who asked not to be identified because of the matter's sensitivity. At issue is a Pentagon plan, reported last week but in the works for more than a month, to kill a $2.4 billion General Electric Co.-Rolls-Royce Plc contract to develop an alternate turbofan engine for the fighter. Pratt & Whitney, a United Technologies Corp. unit, is building the engine that will go in the first F-35s, a family of single-engine, radar-evading aircraft being built by Lockheed Martin Corp..
Proponents of an alternate engine have cited potential savings through competition. They also describe it as a hedge against having to ground the fleet in case of engine trouble. But developing a second engine has boosted development costs, something the Pentagon is under pressure to pare.

SALES IN THE BALANCE

If upheld by the White House and Congress in budget wrangling, canceling the project could mean tens of billions of dollars in extra sales over decades for Pratt & Whitney. Saving the alternate engine program ``was the purpose of (Blair's) letter,'' another person familiar the matter said.
``We're gratified by the efforts of our partner, Rolls-Royce, which has shared concerns with the U.K. government,'' said Rick Kennedy, a spokesman for Cincinnati, Ohio-based GE/Aviation, a GE division. Rolls-Royce described the alternate engine program in a statement as ``an important collaboration'' between the United States and the United Kingdom but declined to comment on the Pentagon's cancellation plan. The White House did not return a phone call seeking comment.
Steve Atkins, a spokesman for the British Embassy in Washington, said: ``We don't comment on confidential government-to-government correspondence.''
Blair, Bush's staunchest foreign partner on Iraq, is well-placed to save the GE-Rolls-Royce engine. Britain has committed at least $2 billion to co-development of the F-35, the most of any of the project's eight foreign partners. GE and Rolls-Royce, one of Britain's premier brands, won the $2.4 billion development contract in July. It is due to run through September 2013. The big money is in spares and maintenance over the engines' projected 40-year lifespan.
``Any letter from Blair is likely to get the president's very close attention,'' said Loren Thompson of the Arlington, Virginia-based Lexington Institute, a research group with close ties to the Pentagon and military contractors. If the Pentagon sticks to its decision, GE probably would exit the business of building tactical fighter engines, Thompson said. The F-35 is due to be the Pentagon's biggest purchase ever at an estimated $256 billion.
The Pentagon plans to buy as many as 2,480 in three variants for the U.S. Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps and the British Royal Navy. In addition, hundreds or thousands may be sold overseas, generating demand for at least 4,000 engines over coming decades, with each engine costing several million dollars. The F-135 co-development partners include Britain, the United States, Italy, the Netherlands, Turkey, Canada, Australia, Denmark and Norway.
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