US lawmakers warn future F-22 orders at risk

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US lawmakers have asked the Department of Defense to spend the $140 million allocated by Congress to keep production of the Lockheed Martin F-22A on track until the next administration.

The bipartisan letter, signed by four senior members of the House Armed Services Committee, says a decision by Pentagon officials to withhold the funds would "effectively preclude" the option of buying more Raptors.

Congress decided to allocate $500 million for long-lead F-22 production in the fiscal year 2009 budget, but also required president-elect Barack Obama's administration to recertificate the programme before 1 March. But Congress cleared the Pentagon to spend up to $140 million of the sum to ensure that long-lead production would continue without a gap in the supply chain.

That contract must be received by Lockheed before 27 November to avoid a potentially costly gap in the supply chain, according to the letter, signed by Representatives Neil Abercrombie, Duncan Hunter, Jim Saxton and Ike Skelton.

The letter adds that at least $40 million of the $140 million would still benefit the F-22A or Lockheed F-35 Joint Strike Fighter programmes, even if the Obama administration decides not to buy more F-22s. "These funds are immediately required to complete the necessary actions for a contract award", the letter says.

The US Air Force has so far ordered 185 F-22s, including two losses, but maintains a requirement for 381. New air force chief of staff Gen Norton Schwartz told Congress in July that he believes the service needs more F-22s than 183, but that the 381 number is probably too high. Schwartz instead committed to accelerating F-35 purchases to help address a looming fighter shortfall.

Meanwhile, Pentagon officials are considering buying at least four more F-22s as part of a wartime supplemental spending bill next year, the letter says. Some lawmakers, however, still support extending full rate production of 20 aircraft by at least one more year.