—John A. Tirpak
February 22, 2008— If the F-22 production line shuts down, it will never re-open, says Larry Lawson, Lockheed Martin’s F-22 general manager.
“Once you close this door, it doesn’t come back; it’s not recoverable,” Lawson said during an interview Feb. 22 at AFA’s Air Warfare Symposium in Orlando.
Although some suggest merely mothballing the F-22 production line as a hedge against more Raptors being needed at a later time, Lawson said it would cost the Air Force a fortune and all that could be saved is the tooling. The vendor and supplier base would vanish and it would be “pragmatically impossible” to get back the workers, of which there are 25,000 who are involved “directly” on the airplane and its components, he said.
Indeed, a restart would be cost prohibitive, he said.
The Air Force’s current program of record is for 183 F-22s, although its requirement remains at 381. Lockheed Martin has orders for all 183 and is operating under the second year of a three-year multiyear procurement contract with USAF for the final 60 of the 183. The company has delivered 113 F-22s to date, with 35 more aircraft [i.e., up to aircraft 148] in different stages of manufacture at its production facilities in Marietta, Ga., and Ft. Worth, Tex.
Barring new orders, Lawson said suppliers of long-lead parts for the F-22 will have no more work starting in November of this year and Lockheed Martin would begin to shutter the production line. The company would begin to terminate operations with providers of aircraft components such as the electronic warfare systems, radar, “all metals,” including titanium and aluminum, and large castings and forgings, he said.
The Air Force has no funding for additional F-22s in its Fiscal 2009 baseline budget request issued earlier this month, nor, however, has it earmarked funding to cover the costs of closing the line. Instead, the Office of the Secretary of Defense made the decision to keep the option open to the next Presidential Administration by making plans to include a request for four additional Raptors as part of an emergency wartime supplemental spending request in Fiscal 2009. USAF also included this request for four F-22s in its unfunded requirements list for Fiscal 2009 as well as a request for advanced procurement money in Fiscal 2009 to cover the long lead items for a new lot of 20 Raptors in Fiscal 2010.
But Lawson said an order for four more Raptors would not buy much time for the next Administration to mull whether to continue buying the F-22 in greater numbers. In fact, the four aircraft would extend the line by just two more months, he said, meaning production would begin to shut down in February 2009, just days after the new president comes into office.
To really buy time for further consideration, Lawson said Congress would have to add even more aircraft to the Fiscal 2009 budget; preferably at least 20, which is the annual number the company has been building under the current multiyear contract. Despite a 20 percent reduction in the annual production rate that was instituted under the multiyear—from 24 to 20 aircraft—Lawson said Lockheed Martin has managed to hold the F-22 price essentially flat through smart up-front bids, learning curve and other savings initiatives. But if the production rate slip below 20 units per year, overhead costs would devour the savings, he said.
Lawson said that quality of the Raptor production line is consistently high. He’s delivered 12 airplanes with zero defects. Equally notable, the F-22 continues to deliver “eye watering” performance in major exercises, he said.
F-22s are currently coming out of the Marietta plant at a faster rate than originally planned, Lawson said. That’s on purpose, he said, noting that there’s a real urgency involved: Dobbins Air Reserve Base, which is adjacent to the plant, is undergoing changes due to the Base Realignment and Closure process. The Navy is leaving, and taking its arresting gear and other runway items with it. The Air Force will need six weeks to repave the runway, meaning from August to mid-September, nothing can fly in or out, he said.
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