The US Department of Defense (DoD) has postponed, for a second time, a decision on starting F-22 Raptor production. This buys Lockheed Martin and Boeing additional time to complete mandated test criteria but raises the prospect of further delay as the decision passes to the new US administration.

The DoD's Defence Acquisition Board (DAB) has rescheduled its F-22 decision meeting to 11 January to give contractors more leeway to complete remaining test criteria. The DAB had been due to meet on 21 December, but this was pushed back to 3 January.

With key Clinton Administration officials exiting the DoD ahead of President-elect Bush's inauguration on 20 January, any further postponement could cause a lengthy delay. Boeing and Lockheed Martin have bridge funding in place to the end of March.

Contractors are awaiting the release of $2.1 billion to begin low rate initial production of the first 10 F-22s and order long lead items for a second batch of 16 fighters. The US Congress last year made this contingent on the programme meeting 11 critical milestones, three of which have still to be met.

Lockheed Martin is blaming weather at Marietta for delaying the first flight of the fifth prototype, which is equipped with Block 3.0 software for sensor fusion and weapon delivery and the start of radar cross section (RCS) testing of a fourth aircraft. At the time of going to press, radar-equipped Raptor 4004 was being readied for transfer to Edwards AFB for RCS tests, while 4005 was taxiing.

Sources say meeting these two objectives will be sufficient for the DAB to give its approval. Release of funds would still be contingent on the final criteria being met of a sixth prototype flying, which is expected after 11 January. The F-22 met its eighth DAB criteria at the end of December with the completion of static testing.

Source: Flight International