Graham Warwick/WASHINGTON DC

All three new fighter programmes in the USA are under threat as Congress begins marking up the Department of Defense's (DoD) fiscal year 2001 budget.

Initial signs are that Congress could delay the start of development of the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF). Production of the US Air Force's Lockheed Martin/Boeing F-22 Raptor and the US Navy's Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet are also threatened with cuts.

One key committee has removed funding for JSF engineering and manufacturing development . The money could be restored if the DoD shows the technology is mature enough to proceed.

The F/A-18E/F programme, in contrast, is coming under threat as it is poised to enter full-rate production. Congress last year approved multi-year procurement of 222 aircraft, but signature of a contract has slipped to June, raising concerns that some in Congress may try to cut funding, citing cost and performance issues.

The F-22 programme faces a challenge as it tries a second time for approval to enter low-rate initial production (LRIP). The DoD seeks almost $4 billion in FY2001 funding, including $2.1 billion for the first 10 production aircraft.

Preserving full funding is "critically important", says F-22 programme general manager Bob Rearden. Nevertheless, Congress is considering a proposal to cut the number of aircraft to six.

To convince Congress to fund the programme fully, he says, the F-22 team must satisfy all criteria set last year as requirements for LRIP approval.

The biggest challenges, says Rearden, are flying the Block 3.0 sensor-fusion software in the F-22 and flying the sixth development aircraft before the December Defense Acquisition Board meeting to decide on LRIP.

Block 3.0 software is on schedule to fly in mid-November, with aircraft 4006 taking off in early December, Rearden says.

Source: Flight International