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House Panel Boosts F-22A Spending
A House subcommittee this week authorized the Air Force to move forward with a multiyear procurement strategy for the F-22A, but modified the service's plan by pouring an additional $1.4 billion into the program to buy 20 fighters next fiscal session. The service's plan, however, is built around a break in Raptor purchases throughout fiscal year 2007.
The Air Force's FY-07 budget blueprint requests $2.9 billion for the Raptor program. The service's envisioned acquisition plan moves the aircraft's production work to the right and adds a total of four fighters beyond FY-06 plans, which would bring the Air Force's planned F-22 inventory to 183 airplanes. The revised service plan also would, according to blue-suited officials allow the service to keep the fighter's production line open until 2010, when Raptor prime contractor Lockheed Martin, is slated to begin building the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.
Of those requested funds, the service would use $200 million to finance a multiyear acquisition plan designed to keep the fighter production line open between fiscal years 2008 and 2010. The Air Force wants to buy 60 aircraft over that three-year span, purchasing 20 fighters each year (Inside the Air Force, Feb. 10, p5). Service officials have said the Air Force could save between $200 million and $600 million with such a strategy.
But this week, prominent House Republican Rep. Curt Weldon (PA) criticized the service's new F-22A buying strategy, with his Armed Services tactical air and land forces subcommittee significantly altering the Air Force's revised Raptor acquisition strategy in FY-07 defense authorization legislation. A House staffer told ITAF after the panel's on April 26 approved its version of the spending measure that the service's strategy for buying its Raptor fleet has become embroiled in a bit of razzmatazz.
Those comments came after the subcommittee, which Weldon chairs, gave a thumbs up to the multiyear procurement strategy during its April 26 mark up. The subcommittee's bill stipulates the full panel's approval of that tactic should be contingent on receiving specific justification documents from the air service.
ITAF reported last month that the service will in coming months submit to Congress a “business case analysis,” that will detail expected F-22A program savings generated by the new purchasing plan (ITAF, March 3, p1). The Raptor program office, located at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, OH, in conjunction with the Alexandria, VA-based Institute for Defense Analyses, will conduct the study, which will quantify the service's anticipated costs and benefits of the plan. The subcommittee's stipulation hinges on the full Armed Services Committee receiving and being satisfied with that study.
However, lawmakers also authorized an additional $1.4. billion for the Air Force to procure 20 Raptors next fiscal year, which runs contrary to the service's vision of waiting until FY-08 before buying those 20 fighters.
In his opening statement, Weldon noted that during FY-06 budget deliberations, Air Force leadership proposed procuring 29 of the next-generation fighters in FY-07. But by the time the FY-07 defense budget request was delivered to lawmakers, the service had altered its FY-07 plans to include only $2 billion -- for subassembly work, with zero planned F-22A purchases. For his part, the subcommittee chairman bristled at that change.
“This amounts to incremental funding of the F-22 aircraft,” Weldon stated during the mark-up. “Congress, to my knowledge, has not approved the incremental funding for major aircraft programs in decades.”
He added that “in rare cases” lawmakers have signed off on incremental funding, but mostly for major Navy shipbuilding programs.
A committee staffer later that day reiterated Weldon's sentiment that incremental funding for aircraft programs goes against the decades-long grain of many defense-minded lawmakers and aides on Capitol Hill.
“We have a choice of zeroing out their money or funding a rational program based on the policies of Congress, which is no incremental funding,” the staffer told ITAF during a telephone interview.
“That's a policy issue. It's not a dollar savings issue or aircraft delivery issue -- the multiyear procurement does that,” the aide said. The subcommittee's revised strategy, according to the staffer, “would get them the airplanes a little bit sooner, and the program would shift a little bit to the left -- but not substantially because originally they were going to go with 29 airplanes this year.”
Since rolling out the FY-07 budget request, senior Air Force officials have maintained that the service's revamped purchasing plan would build a “bridge” between F-22A production and the start of work on the JSF fleet.
The multiyear procurement will provide a “bridge of critical prime contractor resources in support of the Joint Strike Fighter -- potentially reducing the development and outyear production costs” for the complementary next-generation fighter, according to the service's FY-07 budget justification documents.
When asked if moving the Raptor buys to left -- as the subcommittee desires -- would create a production gap in FY-10 between work on the last F-22A and the first F-35, the House staffer responded: “That was all, in our view, bullshit to begin with.”
The aide added the Defense Department and Air Force offered the revised buying plan because military officials needed money to fill coffers drained by unforeseen events, such as Hurricane Katrina relief operations. In the subcommittee's view, the F-22 was picked to be the bill-payer because the Air Force was late in signing an FY-05 Raptor contract, which pushed some costs to the right, the staffer opined.
The aide also told ITAF that while the first flight test of the JSF has been delayed from August until October, the overall schedule for that initiative has not changed “a whole lot.”
There “was no change in the JSF [schedule], but all of a sudden they started worrying about production lines closing and having gaps,” the aide said. “It was all horseshit.”
If air service leaders are “really that concerned about [a production gap], then there are other things that they could do, but that's not an issue -- it was just an excuse,” the staffer told ITAF.
During a April 27 telephone interview, a spokesman for manufacturer Lockheed Martin said, “funding requests and contracting method are a matter for our customer and best addressed by the Air Force.”
At press time (April 27), a service spokesman had not responded to a reporter's request for comment on the subcommittee's actions.
The full Armed Services panel's decision on the Air Force's Raptor strategy could hinge on the service's business case analysis, slated to hit the street next month.
“If they don't give us what we want,” the aide said, “or if it's not satisfactory, then it's meaningless.”