A top US Department of Defense panel says the F/A-22 Raptor has made progress, but it has stopped short of clearing the Lockheed Martin/Boeing fighter to begin the next phase of operational testing in April, writes Stephen Trimble.

The Defense Acquisition Board (DAB), chaired by undersecretary of acquisition, technology and logistics Michael Wynne, is continuing to monitor the US Air Force's progress towards achieving the avionics stability requirement before the programme is certified to begin initial operational test and evaluation (IOT&E), says the Pentagon. "The start of IOT&E remains event-based," it says.

Last September, the DAB required the air force to prove that the F/A-22's avionics suite can operate for 5h without any "instability events". The programme has moved closer to that level in recent weeks, surpassing the 5h threshold in laboratory testing. Sustaining that performance in the cockpit is now the focus.

Wynne was encouraged by the programme's progress after receiving an air force briefing on 22 March. "There appear to be no impediments to entering IOT&E in the April timeframe," says the DoD.

Even so, the air force missed its chance to receive clearance to enter IOT&E last week from the DAB panel. The air force had hoped to begin this phase in March, but nagging avionics problems and airframe maintenance glitches have caused this schedule to slip by at least a month.

The programme is scrambling to complete operational testing in time to keep on track for a decision on full-rate production in December. A report by the USGeneral Accounting Office last week called on the air force to submit a new business case for justifying the $71.8 billion programme.

Source: Flight International