Put F-22 purchase on hold, GAO suggests to Congress Testing behind schedule for Lockheed Martin jet, auditors say

March 25, 1998|By BLOOMBERG NEWS

WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Defense Department should hold off buying the first Lockheed Martin Corp. F-22s because testing of the jet fighter is well behind schedule, the auditing agency for Congress said yesterday.

The General Accounting Office said Congress should delay for a year giving the Pentagon the $595 million it is requesting to purchase the first two F-22s, designed to be the world's most sophisticated, radar-evading plane.

A delay of only one year wouldn't necessarily be a major concern for investors, said Peter Aseritis, a defense analyst for Credit Suisse First Boston. "But if there is a hidden agenda to slow [the F-22 program] down and then kill it, that's a different matter," he said.

So far, there's no such call on Capitol Hill to gut the $62.5 billion, 338-airplane program.

Still, while the F-22 program has generally received good marks for overall management since its launch in April 1991, it's been dogged recently by engine, electronics and manufacturing difficulties.

If problems aren't fixed during tests, taxpayers could spend more on costly modifications and wind up with "substandard systems" once production starts, the GAO said.

A year's delay could increase overall costs by as much as $4 billion and prove "catastrophic," said Brig. Gen. Bruce Carlson, the Air Force director of fighter programs.

The aircraft has strong political support from House Speaker Newt Gingrich, the Georgia Republican whose district is home to many Lockheed workers who assemble the aircraft at the company's Marietta aircraft production facility.

Saxby Chambliss, another Georgia Republican, sits on the House National Security Committee.

Pub Date: 3/25/98

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