Congress will be asked to raise cap on production budget to $45 billion despite cut in US Air Force numbers

The US Department of Defense (DoD) is to ask Congress for additional funding for the Lockheed Martin/Boeing F-22 Raptor fighter despite cutting back planned production for the USAir Force from 331 aircraft to 295. The DoD's Defense Acquisition Board (DAB) approved the F-22 for production on 15 August.

The decision to cut back F-22 numbers was taken after the DAB accepted an independent assessment that cost-saving initiatives will be less productive than USAF estimates. The average unit cost for the Raptor, previously $81.2 million, has been increased to $104 million as a result.

Despite the cutback in numbers, the DoD will still have to ask Congress to raise the cap on the F-22 production budget to $45 billion, from the current $37.6 billion. The cap on development cost will have to be raised to $18 billion, an increase of about $600 million, to cover flight testing delays.

The DAB decision leaves the way clear for the USAF to acquire additional F-22s if costs can be reduced further. Prime contractor Lockheed Martin says it is still aiming for an average flyaway cost in full-rate production of $84 million.

"What this does is incentivise the air force to achieve the cost savings that they've projected," says Pete Aldridge, under secretary of defence for acquisition, technology and logistics. "And if the air force can in fact get the cost estimate of the unit cost at their level, they can buy more aircraft."

The DAB approved a revised low-rate initial production (LRIP) plan that reduces the number of aircraft produced in the first five batches to 103, a cut of 19 aircraft. The USAF plans to use the money saved to fund production cost reduction plans. Lockheed Martin is already building the initial batch of 10 aircraft, and the first delivery is scheduled for the second quarter of 2003. The second batch has been cut to 13 aircraft from the original 16 and production will rise to 35 a year in 2005, instead of 36 a year in 2004 as previously planned.

Despite being approved for production, the F-22 programme still faces a number of challenges, particularly in flight testing, which is behind schedule because of late delivery of aircraft. As a result, the USAF has delayed the start of operational testing by eight months, to April 2003, while holding to the initial operational capability date of December 2005.

The DoD's operational test and evaluation office has told Congress it believes the USAF will have difficulty beginning operational testing before August 2003.

Source: Flight International