Thursday, July 12, 2001

F-22 production again delayed over funding problems, need for testing

By Sandra Jontz, Washington bureau

WASHINGTON — The Air Force F-22 Raptor is again delayed, and officials are tossing around cost overruns of between $2 billion and $9 billion on the price tag for the $63 billion program.

The need for comprehensive testing of the fighter aircraft, coupled with difficulty in funding the program, contributed to the delay. This will likely postpone full low-rate production to July 2003, Pentagon officials told senators Tuesday during a hearing of the Senate Airland Subcommittee of the Armed Services Committee.

Pentagon officials asked the subcommittee to support its request to do away with the congressionally mandated cost cap, which limits annually the amount of money appropriated.

The cost cap stymies progress, limiting the amount of testing of the high capability, $180-million aircraft and keeping experts from making needed adjustments, said Lee Frame, acting director of Operational Test and Evaluation.

“When we find things that go wrong, we need time and money … to fix those things,” Frame told Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., the lone senator attending the hearing at the time.

Testing is essential to the survivability of the program, keeping it safe even though it’s behind schedule, said Darleen Druyun, principal deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition.

The Air Force cut costs for fiscal 2002 by buying 13 instead of 16 Raptors, which starts in October. At this time, the service aims to buy 24 more in 2003, and 36 in 2004.

The Air Force’s objective is to buy 339 Raptors once testing is complete.