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Gates renews White House veto threat over engine

The Obama administration renewed a threat Monday to veto a $680 billion defense spending bill if it includes money for two separate engines for the next-generation jet fighter, a luxury the Pentagon says it cannot afford.
/ Source: The Associated Press

The Obama administration renewed a threat Monday to veto a $680 billion defense spending bill if it includes money for two separate engines for the next-generation jet fighter, a luxury the Pentagon says it cannot afford.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates, touring the Lockheed Martin Corp. plant where the first of the $100 million planes are being assembled, said there is no need for two engine suppliers.

"We have looked at the business case a number of times," Gates said. "The general conclusion is that it would cost several billion dollars in addition," and cause headaches for production down the road.

In an era of defense penny-pinching, Gates said, "we feel strongly there is not a need for the second engine."

Having an alternate supplier for one of the most expensive components of the military's next-generation fighter jet would spread defense dollars and jobs across more companies, and more congressional districts. Stripping the funding toward a second engine supplier would save $560 million.

Congressional leaders have been informed that the president's advisers would recommend a veto if the money for the second supplier stays, Gates said.

The Pentagon calls the F-35 its future workhorse, a mix-and-match platform that can do many things that now require specialized aircraft that cost billions to fine-tune.

But the F-35 is far from cheap. The Congressional Research Service estimates the F-35, also called the Joint Strike Fighter, will cost $246 billion to buy 2,456 planes for the Air Force, Navy and Marines. Including research and other initial costs in the 12-year-old program, the CRS puts the average cost of each plane at $100.1 million.

Other estimates range from $49 million to $62 million a copy when the plane is in peak production.

Congress yielded on another jet program, voting to cut off production of the F-22 as Gates had recommended.

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AP Business Writer Donna Borak in Washington contributed to this report.