(Adds detail on interim funding, quotes, analyst comment)
By Jim Wolf
WASHINGTON Nov 19 The U.S. Defense Department
told Congress it could ill-afford more top-of-the-line F-22
fighter aircraft than now in the pipeline, partly to protect
another Lockheed Martin Corp (LMT.N) fighter, the multinational
Continued purchases of the radar-evading F-22 could
"jeopardize the Department's ability to procure the F-35 in the
quantities required to maintain affordability," John Young, the
Pentagon's chief arms buyer, told a House of Representatives
Armed Services panel on Wednesday.
The Pentagon last week released $50 million in bridge funds
to preserve a decision on future F-22 production for the
incoming administration of President-elect Barack Obama. That
amount was $140 million less than provided by Congress.
The $50 million would serve as a kind of downpayment on
four more F-22s. The Pentagon plans to seek these planes in a
supplemental war budget to offset combat losses, keeping
Lockheed's production line from starting to shut.
The F-22 is designed to dominate enemy airspace at the
start of battle and clear the way for other warplanes,
including the F-35. A total of 183 F-22s have been delivered to
the U.S. Air Force or are on order -- the total sought by
Defense Secretary Robert Gates.
The F-35 is a family of radar-evading fighters that would
be less expensive, once production ramps up, than the
higher-performance F-22. A showcase of international
cooperation, the F-35 was developed with eight foreign
partners: Britain, Italy, the Netherlands, Turkey, Canada,
Australia, Denmark and Norway.
"The Department faces many funding challenges and an
investment that merely adds redundancy, at a high cost, to an
already robust force risks the ability to meet the department's
needs in other equally important mission areas," Young said in
prepared testimony to the air and land forces subcommittee.
Young testified that adding 20 F-22s in fiscal 2010,
consistent with funds provided by Congress for items that would
have to be bought long in advance, would cost more than $3
billion. Even without this, he said, the Air Force "faced
considerable pressures in submitting a balanced budget" to the
Pentagon for the coming year.
The issue of advance procurement is urgent because the
production line must start shutting down early next year unless
Obama opts to buy another batch or keeps options open for doing
Subcommittee Chairman Neil Abercrombie, a Democrat from
Hawaii, said putting down only $50 million to keep the supply
line open could boost the F-22 program cost up to $500 million
if a decision were ultimately made to buy 20 more in March.
Young cautioned against discussing potential costs in
Abercrombie cited Air Force estimates as showing that the
F-22 would cost $153 million per plane in fiscal 2010 for 20
more if a deal were sealed with Lockheed without delay.
In this case, the F-22s could be bought for $50 million
less per plane than the Air Force's F-35 model in 2010, which
work out to $203 million apiece before economies of scale kick
in, according to the preliminary Air Force figures released by
Lockheed produces the F-22 aircraft in partnership with
Boeing Co (BA.N) and United Technologies Corp's (UTX.N) Pratt &
Whitney, which builds its dual F-119 engines.
In June, Gates ousted the Air Force's top military and
civilian leaders amid a tug-of-war over funds for the F-22,
which he considers ill-suited for post-Cold War conflicts like
Iraq and Afghanistan.
The question for Obama boils down to how to equip for, and
otherwise hedge against, foes like Iran and North Korea on the
one hand, and powerful potential adversaries like Russia and
China on the other.
"If the incoming administration is focused on China and
Russia, that will require fundamentally different investments
than counterinsurgencies," including more F-22s, said Philip
Finnegan, an analyst at Teal Group, a Virginia aerospace
(Reporting by Jim Wolf; editing by Tim Dobbyn)