Raptor under threat.

In what could become one of the most infamous decisions concerning a major procurement programme in recent years, the House Appropriations Committee’s defence panel subcommittee has endorsed a proposal to remove the six F-22A Raptor next-generation fighters from the FY2000 Defense Budget. This would save $1.8 billion which it feels would be better spent on pilot retention, readiness shortfalls and ordering additional fighters of existing types — however, $1.2 billion would be included for F-22 research and development (R&D).

The committee also approved an overall defence spending bill of $266.1 billion, this is $15.5 billion more than in FY99 and is $2.8 billion above that requested by the President. This will now be voted upon by the whole House and it should be understood that only one of three committees has voted to eliminate the six F-22 aircraft. The Senate on the other hand has endorsed a full $3 billion for the F-22A programme, funding the six aircraft and continued R&D.

Hardly surprisingly then the US Air Force, Lockheed Martin and the Pentagon have expressed grave concerns over the decision. For a start, it would cause a delay of at least a year to the planned Initial Operational Test and Evaluation (IOT&E) phase because the USAF would have to make use of the two existing test aircraft. The delay in production would lead to an increase in costs down the line. Estimated to be around $6.5 billion, this would jeopardise the congressionally mandated cost caps already in place — $18.6 billion for engineering manufacture and development (EMD) and $41 billion for 339 aircraft. Another consideration would be the need to extend the life of a Wing of 72 F-15s due to the delay in the delivery schedule, this could be even more costly. The revolt against the F-22 was led by Republican Jerry Lewis (California), claiming that the project is a left-over from the Cold War days and that no threat exists which warrants the aircraft. F-22 proponents are countering this vigorously by pointing out that the whole idea of the F-22 is to be so far ahead of any likely opposition in terms of technology and capabilities that it will completely dominate the skies. They argue that if you wait for a threat to develop, then you are constantly playing ‘catch-up’ trying to regain a superior position.

Not surprisingly, supporters of the programme and the manufacturer are actively lobbying Congress in an effort to keep the six aircraft in the defence budget.

Defense Secretary William Cohen has pledged to fight to maintain the F-22 programme and is currently fostering as much support in the Senate as possible. The defence bills from both Houses will be meshed by a joint House-Senate conference shortly and it will be at this stage that the final decision on the six aircraft will be reached. Chief of Staff of the Air Force, General Michael Ryan, added a further dimension when he suggested that the USAF would have to re-examine the service requirements for the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) should the F-22 be cut. The USAF’s requirements for the JSF are closely tied to having the F-22A air dominance fighter available — remove the F-22 and the JSF could need a major redesign to cope with a more hostile environment. Certain technology being developed for the F-22 is also to be employed on the JSF, this forms a key element of risk and cost reduction for the JSF programme, which could also be compromised.

Notwithstanding the political problems being experienced by the programme, Lockheed is proceeding with the construction of the EMD aircraft. Eleven midfuselages are being built at Fort

Worth. The final two EMD midfuselages are scheduled for delivery in 2000. The first of two mid-fuselages of the next phase of the F-22 programme, the Production Representative Test Vehicle phase, is scheduled for delivery in the third quarter of 2000. The first avionics F-22 is scheduled to fly in the first quarter of 2000.

At Edwards AFB, California, the flight test programme continues unabated, and on July 21 Raptor 01 demonstrated the super cruise capability of the aircraft by sustaining Mach 1.5 without afterburner. Indeed the engines performed so well that test pilot Colonel Clyde Moore had difficulty in holding down the speed. The Defense Acquisition Board set five major tasks for the aircraft to achieve in 1999 — three have been met and the other two should be addressed by early September.

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