Cutbacks run up costs of F-22 Lockheed Martin, Air Force review plan for new jet fighter


September 16, 1997|By Greg Schneider | Greg Schneider,SUN STAFF

WASHINGTON -- The cost of a $71 million F-22 fighter plane is already going up because the Pentagon decided to buy fewer copies, and further cuts by Congress would "have a significant impact" on the price, the Air Force's top acquisitions officer said DTC yesterday.

Lt. Gen. George K. Muellner said teams from the Air Force and from the companies building the plane, led by Lockheed Martin Corp., are working to determine how this year's decision to buy 339 F-22s instead of the original 438 will affect costs.

But Muellner added that all sides are committed to keeping the purchase cost of the 339 planes at $43 billion. He said project leaders have been meeting with subcontractors at every level to determine ways to reduce the additional expenses sparked by the lower purchase order.

The hefty cost of the high-performance, super-advanced plane made it a target in the Senate. It passed a defense spending bill this summer that shaved $500 million from the $2.1 billion requested for the F-22 program in 1998.

The House, however, fully funded the program. The difference will be ironed out in conference committee.

Muellner said the Air Force is taking a positive message to Capitol Hill: The F-22, which had its first flight Sept. 7 after numerous delays, is meeting all performance expectations and is crucial to the future of the military.

"I think I'm optimistic we'll come through conference in pretty good shape," Muellner said during a news conference at the annual convention of the Air Force Association.

The general and executives from Lockheed Martin briefed reporters yesterday on the first flight of the plane, which took place at the Marietta, Ga., plant where the aircraft was assembled.

That flight was conducted without any major problems, while offering hints of the awesome capabilities anticipated from the plane. In a videotape of the flight, F-16 escort planes could be seen firing their afterburners just to keep up with the F-22, which had its landing gear down and was nowhere near full power.

A second flight test Sunday was cut short by a problem in transmitting data, and another was held yesterday.

In a military study released in June called the Quadrennial Defense Review, the Pentagon used the overwhelming effectiveness of the plane as part of its reasoning in reducing the purchase order from 438 to 339.

It also slowed production timetables from a peak of 48 planes a year to 36 a year.

Muellner said the Air Force and Lockheed Martin should reach a contract setting costs for that new rate by the middle of next year.

Tom Burbage, F-22 program manager for Lockheed Martin, said the cost of each plane always goes up when the total number purchased goes down, but that the company expects to continue to find ways to save money.

The aerospace giant, based in Bethesda, said its engineers are also working to hold down costs on another major warplane program, the Joint Strike Fighter.

Planned to one day serve as the economical, work-horse partner to the elite F-22, the Joint Strike Fighter is a huge potential contract that Lockheed Martin is vying with Boeing Co. to build.

British Aerospace and Northrop Grumman Corp. both joined Lockheed Martin's design team earlier this year, and the Joint Strike Fighter program manager said yesterday that their capabilities have enabled his company to avoid investing "millions of dollars" in equipment.

David Wheaton, speaking at a JSF team luncheon sponsored by British Aerospace, said the other two companies augment what Lockheed Martin can do.

Northrop Grumman, for instance, has expertise in forming and bonding composite materials, and British Aerospace has other cutting-edge technology that keep Lockheed Martin from having invest in costly equipment, he said.

That team and Boeing's team are building prototype Joint Strike Fighters that will fly in 2000 so the Pentagon can pick a winner in 2001.

Pub Date: 9/16/97

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