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The Pentagon's F-22 Claim: A DOD spokesman said today that the Air Force did not recommend buying more than 187 F-22 aircraft in budget deliberations that concluded with the program announcements Monday by Defense Secretary Robert Gates. Geoff Morrell, Gates’ top spokesman, told the Daily Report that Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz and Air Force Secretary Michael Donley are “completely on board” with the F-22 decision, and that they think 187 is “the right number.” The Air Force has declined to comment on advice it provided to Gates about the F-22. 

Our conversation with Mr. Morrell:

Q: Did the Air Force recommend that 187 was the right number of F-22s, or did it simply agree to that number?

A: The chief of staff of the Air Force and the Secretary of the Air Force are completely on board with this decision. They think that’s the right number and the right mix of fifth-generation aircraft. The 183 plus four meets the requirement, coupled with the acceleration of the F-35 and acceleration of the test plan.

Q: When was this recommendation made?

A: This is an iterative process. These plans were developed over the course of several months, and were made in consideration of a variety of factors. These decisions are not made in a vacuum. The budget plan was arrived at after determining the proper mix of fifth-gen aircraft.

Q: The chief suggested only a couple of weeks ago that he would be recommending more than the 183 …

A: 187 is more than 183. Let me put it this way: the Air Force did not ever recommend going above the 2004 plan to buy 183 aircraft, plus the four additional ones.

Q: The Air Force has been saying for some time that 183 is not enough. Gen. Schwartz said in his confirmation hearings that 381 was too high but 183 was too few. Adm. Mullen said last fall that he thought the Air Force’s number was 60 more.

A: Mullen said the Air Force should get 60 more?

Q: Mullen said that it was his understanding that the Air Force wanted ‘about 60’ more F-22s.

A: Well, that was some time ago. And as I say, this process has been underway for some months.

Q: When was the final decision made? When did Mr. Gates meet with the chiefs to tell them about his decisions?

A: There happens to have been a senior level meeting Monday morning, although some of the chiefs were on the road. But I will say that all the chiefs were aware of the decisions before Monday, aware of how the budget would impact their services. There were no surprises, really. They were well aware of what would be announced, because this was a three-month process.

Q: So, to put a fine point on it, the Air Force never recommended buying more than the 187 aircraft?

A: That is correct.