July 24, 2006

Pentagon said urged to buy more Lockheed F-22s

By Andrea Shalal-Esa

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A second study done for the U.S.
Defense Department suggests the military should buy more
Lockheed Martin Corp. F-22 fighter jets, rather than capping
its production at 183 as currently planned, according to a
defense analyst and a source familiar with the study.

A draft of the study by the Pentagon's program analysis and
evaluation office said the Air Force could save over $500
million in the long term by buying at least two more batches of
20 radar-evading F-22s, said one source familiar with the

The Air Force may use the new data to justify a request for
more funds to keep producing F-22 fighter jets into the next
decade, when Lockheed will begin building its more affordable
next-generation Joint Strike Fighter.

One defense official, who asked not to be named, said the
Air Force could ask for more F-22s in its fiscal 2008 budget to
bridge what he called an inevitable "capability gap."

Loren Thompson, a Lexington Institute analyst with close
ties to the Air Force and the defense industry, said the "joint
air dominance" study had not yet been finalized but it could
call for additional purchases of more than 40 F-22s.

The new study parallels the results of a earlier report by
Virginia-based consulting group Whitney, Bradley & Brown (WBB),
which said the military needed at least 40 more F-22s.

"Both of the major studies ... recommend buying
substantially more F-22s than are contained in the current
program plan," Thompson said. He said the recommendations ran
counter to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's consistent
skepticism about the expensive fighter jet.

Each F-22 now costs about $130 million, not including tens
of billions of dollars spent on research and development since
the program's inception in 1986. Including R&D costs, each
plane costs about $375 million, said one congressional aide.

The Air Force initially hoped to buy 750 F-22s, but that
number has been nearly halved due to rising costs, budget
pressures, and competition from other weapons programs.

The number of F-22s recommended by the studies is still
well below the 381 the Air Force says it needs to fight future
wars, but above the 183 aircraft that it says it can pay for.

The Pentagon had no immediate comment on the new study.

Thompson said the Pentagon was preparing to release the
findings of the earlier WBB study at the request of lawmakers.

Air Force officials say it is imperative to keep the F-22
fighter in production to avoid breaks that could disrupt the
highly skilled workforce and the needed suppliers.

The Air Force restructured the program last December,
adding $1.8 billion in costs to pay for four additional F-22s
and to stretch production to 2010.

Lawmakers in both the Senate and House have approved
multiyear funding for the program for 2007 through 2009. But
Sen. John McCain, an Arizona Republican and a member of the
conference committee that must finalize the legislation,
continues to question the legality of the move.

McCain's Airland Subcommittee of the Senate Armed Services
Committee will hold a hearing on the issue on Tuesday.

"Both the House and the Senate have authorized multiyear
procurement, but the conferees could still overturn that
decision and make other changes," said Christopher Bolkcom,
analyst for the Congressional Research Service.