- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 16, 2001

The Pentagon has given the Air Force the go-ahead to begin the first production run of F-22 Raptors, the stealth fighter meant to replace the F-15 Eagle, officials said yesterday.
The decision, which has not been announced publicly, includes an Air Force pledge to put an additional $5.4 billion into the program, reflecting projected cost increases, said the officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
The Air Force also agreed to reduce the total number of F-22s to 295 from 339, the officials said. If the per-plane production cost is lower than the Pentagon estimates, then the Air Force may be allowed to build more than 295. The Air Force believes the Pentagon's cost estimate is too high.
The Pentagon decision is for what it calls "low-rate initial production," which amounts to 13 F-22s. The next step would be for the Pentagon to give the go-ahead for full-rate production, the officials said.
The plane's builder, Lockheed Martin Corp., has built seven F-22s for test purposes. Five are at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., and one is at Lockheed's plant at Marietta, Ga. The seventh has been retired. Three more test aircraft are to be delivered to the Air Force by the end of the year.
The decision to go ahead with the initial production run was made by a special review board headed by Pete Aldridge, the undersecretary of defense for acquisition and technology. The board met on Tuesday.
Also that day, Air Force Secretary James G. Roche urged that the F-22 move into production despite cost overruns.
"It works. It works, gang," he told a group of reporters. He noted that the program had been in development for two decades. "It's time to get on with it."
Early this month, the General Accounting Office (GAO) reported that production of 339 of the planes would cost from $2 billion to $9 billion more than the $37.6 billion Congress specified as the cap for the program.
The GAO has said that in order for the Air Force to stay within the $37.6 billion cap, it would have to reduce its order by 85 planes, down to 248, if the higher cost is correct and projected savings are not realized.
Some lawmakers suggested that the predictions of potential cost overruns — the lower one by the Air Force and the higher one by the office of the secretary of defense — put the Air Force's purchasing plans at risk.
Last week, officials said 7-inch cracks had been found by X-ray in the tail of one of the six F-22 test planes, but that the cause had not been determined.

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