Q: What's the Pentagon's and the Secretary's reaction to a GAO report suggesting that Congress should delay funds at least a year to Lockheed Martin for the initial F-22s because of problems with testing (inaudible)?
A: We, of course, have seen that report. We're studying the report and the whole issue right now. We believe the F-22 program should remain on its current schedule. It's an important program. It's important that we get the F-22 up and flying and into the force as soon as possible. But we will continue to review it, and make the program -- our goal is to make the program work. We right now are sticking on the announced schedule.
Q: So you would oppose any delay in funding at this point?
A: At this stage we want to stay on the schedule which is to get the delivery of the first two production aircraft, I believe, in FY99. That's what the contract calls for right now.
Q: You say to stay on schedule, but the Air Force plan is to move the award of the contract up almost nine months.
A: The issue as I understand it, in the GAO report, is whether to slip the contract from what is currently called for. The current contract... As I understand it, the GAO asked for a 12 month slip in the program. That is not something we're contemplating right now. We want to stick with the program.
Q: There was testimony yesterday that on that schedule, about four percent of the testing of that airplane will be done by the time there's a commitment to production. Is the Secretary comfortable with so little testing before there's a production commitment?
A: One of our options, of course, is to increase the testing rate and to get more of the testing underway. My understanding, and I'm not an expert on aircraft testing, is that the early tests are by far the most important tests, and that the first several hundred hours of tests are where you're most likely to find out what the problems are, if any. And to begin to figure out ways to deal with them.
There is a long testing program for this plane, and the fact that it hasn't been completed is not a surprise because we have some more time to do it. But one of the options open to the Air Force and one that they're pursuing is to try to find ways to accelerate the testing so more will be completed.
Q: Why the rush? What's the threat? There's no threat out there for 10-20 years, according to the DIA, that we have to worry about... the aircraft we'll already have flying. So what's so bad about delaying it to make sure you're not buying a pig in a poke?
A: First of all, I don't think that buying a pig in the poke is the issue right here. The Air Force has a good routine for testing these planes, and has done it many times in the past, obviously. The issue is bringing on-line a new fighter to replace some of the aging fighters in the inventory. The F-15s and the F-16s were basically developed in the '70s, and this is a fighter that will come on-line in the 21st Century. It will really be the backbone of the Air Force in the 21st Century. And they would like to bring that fighter on as soon as they can to start the training and the workup that goes with introducing a new weapon into the force.
Q: The Air Force was asked if there was another airplane that had ever gone into production with that little bit of testing, and the answer was the B-1B. We know what a wonderful success that was. It's still being...
A: Otto, I don't think you listened to my earlier answer which is that this is not a static program. The amount of testing done today is not necessarily the amount of testing that will be done at the time these planes come into production -- these first two models come in. So there is time left to do more testing and the Air Force plans to accelerate the testing rate.
Q: It isn't even flying now, however.
A: They have flown the F-22.
Q: They have flown it but they're not flying it now.
A: That is correct, but they will fly it more.
A: I can't answer that question. We'll get the Air Force to answer that question.
Q: It's had a lot of problems. It's delayed... they had a rusting fuel tank or a leaking fuel tank, really basic materials caused it to stretch out its first flight for four or five months. It hasn't flown one hour out of Andrews. I haven't heard they were going to take off any time soon. It looks like they're delaying this test program.
A: The issue here is whether they go ahead and meet the current contract. My understanding is the Air Force plans to stick with the current contract.
Q: Could you address the threat? What is the threat? According to DIA, there's nothing that can knock down the F-16, which is already flying and could be kept in production for 10-20 years.
A: George, I think you always have to weigh the preparation and the time needed to prepare for a threat that could develop in the future, with waiting until the threat actually develops. Clearly, it's more prudent to develop new weapons that can deal with future threats before the future threats are there, rather than afterwards. And obviously this whole conversation has illustrated that it takes a long while to bring sophisticated new technology into the force.
The Air Force, I think, planned prudently to give themselves plenty of lead time to prepare for a future threat. At the time this program was contemplated, of course, we were looking at a different threat picture than we are now, but we can't be certain that in 10 or 20 years there won't be a significant new threat on the horizon from a competing country. Were we to sit around and wait for a new threat to develop, I think you'd be criticizing the Air Force for sitting on its hands while its competitors were sneaking up on it.
Q: The real question, though, is making sure the plane -- you can validate the plane's performance before you go into production.
A: I think the Air Force is fully satisfied that it will be able to do that. But this is something that's going to be reviewed by Mr. Gansler, it's going to be reviewed by Gen. Ryan and his experts in the Air Force, and they will continue to review it as required.
Right now my understanding is that the Air Force plans to move ahead on the current schedule.
Q: Secretary Cohen has been holding up a Navy airplane for several months because there were problems discovered during testing. That's where wing drop surfaced. Why is there an unwillingness to hold up an airplane that hasn't been tested?
A: I don't believe that the F-18 has been held up. I believe that the question is would the next amount of money be released sometime this month if the wing problem were not resolved.
The Navy believes that it has resolved that problem. That is being tested today, as a matter of fact. I don't know whether the test is going on as we speak, but there was a test scheduled for today. An operations test and evaluation team is flying, as you know, the plane with the new wing design, at the Patuxent Naval Air Station.
So yes, he believes in testing. Yes, he believes in making sure that the planes work. He has discussed the F-22 as recently as yesterday with Gen. Ryan, the Chief of Staff of the Air Force. Gen. Ryan has told him that it is his belief that the current schedule is doable, that the current schedule should be adhered to, that the testing will be accelerated, and that the problems should be worked out.
But that's exactly why we have tests -- is to learn about problems and work them out, you're right. No one wants to put a plane that doesn't work into the air. The Air Force has expressed confidence as recently as yesterday to the Secretary that they'll be able to make this work.
Press: Thank you.