ATLANTA - The Pentagon has approved rapid production of F/A-22 Raptor fighters, but that doesn't mean the Air Force will get all the planes it wants.
A Pentagon panel known as a defense acquisition board approved full-rate production of stealthy, supersonic Raptors late last month, Loren Thompson, defense analyst at the Lexington Institute, said yesterday.
That board's decision will allow Bethesda-based Lockheed Martin to accelerate construction of the planes in Marietta, Ga., where about 2,200 of the plant's 7,800 workers are tied to the Raptor program.
"The Raptor has completed its development," Thompson said. "It's a full production program that will stay on course unless Congress accepts [Defense Secretary Donald H.] Rumsfeld's recommendation to terminate it early. And Congress has rebuffed him on many program proposals."
The Pentagon had no comment yesterday.
Richard Aboulafia, aerospace analyst at the Teal Group, said the board's backing is a major step for the Raptor program.
"It's an important milestone and endorsement of the Raptor," Aboulafia said. "It says the plane is performing well, and no major design changes are needed or anticipated."
Lockheed has built more than 40 Raptors, and full-rate production is projected to reach about 30 airplanes a year.
The board's technical decision on increasing Raptor production doesn't change future Pentagon budgets that envision limiting Raptor purchases to 179 and trimming $10.5 billion from the $72 billion program. The Air Force says it needs 381 Raptors to enable it to control the skies in any future wars.
Rob Fuller, a Lockheed spokesman in Marietta, said yesterday that the company "has seen news reports" about the Pentagon production decision but hasn't been officially notified.
"We're looking forward to seeing the results," he said. "But we haven't seen them yet."
More than 1,000 companies in more than 40 states build parts for the Raptor, and Aboulafia said their political influence could rise as the planes go into full production.