F-22 Rises As An Option After F-15 Faults Found

January 13th, 2008  
Team Infidel

Topic: F-22 Rises As An Option After F-15 Faults Found

Fort Worth Star-Telegram
January 12, 2008
Pg. 1C
By Dave Montgomery, Star-Telegram Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON -- Accelerating production of Lockheed Martin's F-22 Raptor is emerging as a possible option as the Air Force determines how to maintain its overall force structure with the grounding of older-model F-15 fighter jets, a top Air Force general said Friday.
In an interview with the Star-Telegram, Maj. Gen. Mark "Shack" Shackelford said Air Force leaders are studying the service's combat capabilities after finding structural defects in more than 40 percent of the service's 441 F-15s.
One possible course, he said, will be "should we or could we accelerate the rate at which we buy F-22s." He added, however, that it is "too early to speculate" on the ultimate decision.
Shackelford, who oversees the acquisition of fighters and bombers, said the discussion on the F-15 is unrelated to a separate high-profile push to extend Raptor production beyond its scheduled termination in 2011. But he acknowledged a "potential fallout effect" resulting from problems with older F-15s, which the F-22 is being built to replace.
An internal debate has raged for months over the Defense Department's plan to cease F-22 production in 2011 after a final purchase of 20 fighters. Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England, a former Fort Worth aerospace executive, favors that plan, but Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. T. Michael Moseley, a Grand Prairie native, is leading his service's push to keep the assembly line open.
Under the current plan the Air Force's F-22 fleet would be capped at 183 aircraft, roughly half the number service officials say is needed to maintain U.S. air superiority. More than 1,800 Lockheed workers in Fort Worth build the center fuselage, the largest section, and Boeing workers in Seattle build the tail and rear section. The fighter is assembled at a Lockheed Martin plant in Marietta, Ga., which also builds the forward fuselage.
Shackelford restated the Air Force's goal of buying 381 Raptors, which he said is the minimum needed to confront a proliferation of advanced surface-to-air missiles and the emergence of new-generation fighters in Russia and China.
Maj. Gen. Jeff Riemer, program executive officer for the F-22 who also participated in the interview, said the Air Force has several cost scenarios for extending Raptor production.
The current production rate of 20 a year means that building 198 more aircraft would cost about $40 billion and keep the production line open until 2019. But boosting production to 32 annually, he said, would be more efficient, reducing the cost to about $35 billion, and production would last until 2016.
The two-star generals stressed that the Air Force remains committed to buying 1,763 of the F-35 Lightning II, a joint strike fighter also being made by a Lockheed-led team, and said the two aircraft will complement each other.
Under the current cap of 183 aircraft, Riemer said, suppliers would be forced to begin shutting down production later this year and workers at the Fort Worth plant would produce the last center fuselage in December 2010.
Raptor supporters in Congress have cited the older aircraft's troubles as an argument for increasing production of the new aircraft, widely regarded as the world's most sophisticated fighter.
The Air Force grounded its F-15 fleet after an F-15C broke apart in November on a training mission southwest of St. Louis. Although more than 200 have returned to flight, Air Force officials have since found defects in at least 162 aircraft built from 1978 to 1985 by McDonnell Douglas, which later merged with Boeing.
The push to extend F-22 production is likely to be part of annual budget deliberations to shape defense spending for fiscal 2009 and beyond. Fiscal 2009 begins in October, but the congressional debate will begin in early February after President Bush and the Pentagon submit their recommendations.
"There is a fundamental disagreement between the Air Force and the senior policy people [in the Pentagon] over whether additional F-22s are required," said military analyst Loren Thompson, an executive at the Lexington Institute in Arlington, Va. Thompson, who has close contacts in the Pentagon, said the defense budget may opt to defer a decision.
Congressional supporters, many of whom represent the manufacturers or suppliers, are rallying behind the Air Force. Sixty-eight House members and 27 senators sent letters to Defense Secretary Robert Gates last month urging that F-22 production be continued.
Boosting F-22 production is a top priority in Texas, where Lockheed Martin Aeronautics has well-placed political friends. All four Republican House members who represent Tarrant County, Kay Granger of Fort Worth, Joe Barton of Arlington, Michael Burgess of Lewisville and Kenny Marchant of Coppell, and the state's two Republican senators, Kay Bailey Hutchison and John Cornyn, all signed the letters to Gates.
Republican Gov. Rick Perry made the same appeal in a letter to President Bush on Dec. 21, saying that more than 2,700 people at more than 100 companies work on the F-22 in Texas.

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