Bush snubs Rolls over fighter engine

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Despite personal pleas from Tony Blair to President George Bush, the White House has scrapped a $2.4bn (£1.4bn) contract for Rolls-Royce and General Electric of the US to develop a second engine for the next-generation Joint Strike Fighter, expected to become the world's most widely used military jet.

Pentagon officials confirmed yesterday that funding for the alternative Rolls-Royce/GE engine for the $250bn JSF programme had been dropped from the 2007 budget Mr Bush sent to Congress, covering the fiscal year starting 1 October.

"The GE motor is not in the President's budget," a top official in the programme confirmed to Reuters yesterday. Though half expected, the decision will come as a bitter disappointment for Britain. It will stir complaints in London that the US is again showing scant gratitude for Britain's support in Iraq and elsewhere. The UK is scheduled to buy 100 of the JSF jets.

All may not be lost, since funding for the Rolls-Royce engine could be reinstated by Congress when the Pentagon's record $440bn 2007 budget - 7 per cent up on this year - is debated this year. But such a move would be politically very tricky, with the administration under intense pressure to cut the federal deficit.

If Rolls-Royce is excluded, its rival, Pratt & Whitney, will have a monopoly to supply engines for what is likely to be the most widely used jet fighter in advanced countries over the next 30 years. Despite "developmental challenges", the first JSF test flight is scheduled for late summer.

The 2007 budget provides for a record $2.7 trillion of spending. It boosts defence and national security spending, but makes cuts in healthcare and welfare.