The US Air Force has acted to justify its need for a stealthy air superiority fighter in the light of its Kosovo experience after being surprised by a Congressional move to delay the Lockheed Martin/ Boeing F-22 Raptor.

A key Congressional subcommittee proposed that funds for the first six production F-22s be cut from the fiscal year 2000 defence budget, freeing $1.8 billion for the USAF to spend on shoring up its overstretched operations.

A House Appropriations Committee vote to adopt the proposal was scheduled as Flight International went to press, with proponents of the cut predicting success. But chances of the delay being approved by the full Congress are limited, as three of the four committees handling the budget have fully funded the F-22.

House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee chairman Jerry Lewis says a pause in F-22 procurement would allow the USAF to reassess its need for the fighter. He proposes spending the $1.8 billion on pilot retention and additional Boeing F-15s, Lockheed Martin F-16s and KC-130J tankers and Northrop Grumman E-8 Joint-STARS surveillance aircraft.

The USAF says a pause in the programme would extend development by 15 months. Development cost would be increased by $1.2 billion and production cost by $5.3 billion. The resulting two-year delay in F-22 initial operational capability, to December 2007, would force it to extend the service life of a wing of 72 F-15s, incurring additional cost.

Although it admits to being overstretched by Kosovo operations and acknowledges there was little air-to-air action, the USAF says it requires the F-22 to ensure air dominance from 2010.

Source: Flight International