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The Raptor Clock is Ticking: If the next Administration wants to continue with F-22 production, it has until March 2009 to make a stable funding commitment before costs really begin to rise, says the Air Force’s top uniformed acquisition official. The outgoing Administration failed to provide either shut-down or advance procurement funds to cover Raptors beyond Lot 9—the final tranche in the current 183-aircraft program of record—as part of the Fiscal 2009 defense budget request. But funds added by Congress to the final versions of the defense legislation for the fiscal year will carry the F-22 line to March, at which point “the front end of the [production] line begins to shut down,” said Lt. Gen. Mark Shackelford, military deputy to USAF’s acquisition executive, in an October interview. Shackelford said these Lot 10 F-22s will have a $156 million recurring unit flyaway cost, if the tranche comprises 20 aircraft, but the cost would rise by $25 million per aircraft in March if the fighters are not kept in steady production. The last F-22s currently under contract—the Lot 9 aircraft—will be delivered in 2011. It is possible for the Raptor line to shut down and restart later, but this would come at significant cost. Shackelford noted that a recent RAND analysis estimated that a two-year break in F-22 production would add more than $5 billion to the cost of the program if an additional 75 F-22s were eventually built beyond 183. The Air Force is “well along in the production learning curve,” he said, and the production line is “extremely healthy.” Raptors are available to the combatant commanders today if needed, Shackelford said. (For more on the major Air Force acquisition issues facing the next Administration, read Post Election Day.)