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February 6, 2008— Missing from the Air Force’s $117 billion budget proposal for Fiscal 2009 is money either to buy additional F-22s beyond the current 183-aircraft program of record or to shutter the production line if there are to be no more.

Instead OSD has decided to hold to the current Raptor buy and defer the decision on the fate of the F-22 production line to the next Administration that will take office in January 2009.

“I wouldn't say that the department has changed its position on the total amount, the 183,” Tina Jonas, OSD comptroller, said of the F-22 on Feb. 4 while briefing reporters on DOD’s Fiscal 2009 budget request. “I do believe, though, that the next Administration will have to make a call on what they want to do ultimately.”

The Air Force hasn’t changed its position that it requires more than twice that amount.

“Clearly the Air Force is on the record saying we need 381 based on the National Military Strategy and based on the formula that we use to develop the number of aircraft we need,” Maj. Gen. Larry Spencer, USAF’s deputy assistant secretary for Budget, told reporters on Feb. 4 while discussing the Air Force’s portion of the 2009 spending request. “We are continuing to make our case. ... We don’t want to close down the line and we want to progress towards 381.”

Lockheed Martin is in the midst of the three-year multiyear procurement contract that will give USAF the final 60 of its 183 Raptors. The Air Force’s Fiscal 2009 does include about $3.4 billion to pay for the last tranche of 20 of them, which will be delivered in 2011.

The F-22 currently has about a 30-month build cycle from the time of the acquisition of long-lead-time materials to the day when a pristine aircraft rolls out of Lockheed Martin’s assembly plant in Marietta. Ga. Going by that schedule, the company would require funding this fall—that is at the start of Fiscal 2009—to keep the supplier base engaged and order the long-lead time materials and components for a new lot of Raptors.

This doesn’t mean that it would be too late for the Air Force to reactivate the Raptor line once there is a break if it got the permission and the dollars to invest in more aircraft. However, any break in the continuity of the line, in this case, with the long-lead suppliers, likely would have an impact on the cost/price of the aircraft.

There are many variables in this equation, including whether Lockheed Martin—as Boeing has done with the C-17 production line—will assume risk and keep the supplier base engaged until the next Administration is in the position to order more Raptors.

Lockheed Martin’s response yesterday to the Fiscal 2009 proposal was that it is “pleased” that the “F-22 is supported” in the Bush Administration’s $515.4 billion defense budget request presented to Congress on Monday.

“The F-22 Raptor performed exceptionally well during deployments and force-on-force exercises in 2007 and the US Air Force declared full operational capability at Langley AFB, Va. in December,” the company wrote. “We look forward to supporting our customer as the budgetary process continues.”
 
There is another variable in the equation. Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England announced in a Jan. 14 letter to Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-Ga.), a member of the House Armed Services Committee and the Air Force Caucus, that DOD would keep the Raptor production line open “by requesting additional F-22s” in a Fiscal 2009 emergency wartime funding request as a means of replacing USAF’s combat losses since 9-11.

While there has been no official confirmation of the amount of F-22s in play here, the number four has been circulating in industry and Pentagon circles. Spencer would not confirm a number, saying it would be premature to comment since the Air Force’s leadership has yet to approve an amount and OSD has not asked for one yet.

Four Raptors would keep the production line active only for several additional months, so it buys a little bit of time, but not much. Further, the request for Raptors may or may not come in DOD’s initial emergency package, but rather could come in a subsequent proposal, Air Force officials said last week.

Still the potential for this add-on buy allowed DOD to forgo including money to terminate the Raptor production line, according to Jonas and Adm. Steve Stanley, director of Force Structure, Resources, and Assessment for the Joint Staff.

“We’re in the third of a multi-year procurement, so [in] FY '09 there's 20 aircraft,” Stanley said while appearing with Jonas on Feb. 4. “Because of that 20 ... [and] potentially these additional aircraft, there was no reason to program shutdown costs in FY '09. The line would remain open; it would not require shutdown costs in FY '09, so they are not there. It also has the advantage of leaving a decision about F-22 to the next administration, which will have to execute the program either way it goes.”

Ironically, money in Fiscal 2009 for shuttering the F-22 line was originally a part of the Air Force’s budget build. Air Force Secretary Michael Wynne subsequently asked OSD to allow USAF to take those funds—amounting to $497 million—and use them instead to procure long-lead-time parts for an additional lot of 20 F-22s.

OSD nixed the idea and decided instead to move the dollars to F-15 maintenance accounts so that the Air Force could fix the structural problems it is having with a sizable chuck of its F-15 A-D model fighters.