December 29, 2004
Looking for Cuts, Pentagon Turns to Jet Fighter Program
By ERIC SCHMITT
WASHINGTON, Dec. 28 - The Pentagon has told the White House and Congress that it
plans sharp cuts in the Air Force's program for the F/A-22, the most expensive
fighter jet in history, in an effort that budget analysts said was intended to
offset mounting deficits and the growing costs of the war in Iraq.
The Pentagon's decision, which four administration and Congressional officials
described on Tuesday and which Congress must still approve, comes as the Bush
administration is pressing all agencies to scale back spending requests for the
fiscal year 2006 budget, which will be submitted to lawmakers early next year.
The White House is under pressure after the November elections to show progress
in trimming federal deficits while ensuring that troops in Iraq and Afghanistan
have adequate armored protective equipment. The cost of operations in Iraq alone
are hovering around $4.4 billion a month.
At the moment, the fighter, known as the Raptor, costs about $258 million a
plane. That is based on an overall cost of $71.8 billion, and the Air Force's
plans to buy 277 Raptors.
Senior Pentagon and Air Force officials were still discussing details of the
cutbacks. One leading industry analyst, Loren Thompson, said the program could
be ended after producing about 160 aircraft, possibly saving more than $15
billion over time but significantly raising the cost per plane. The Pentagon has
already spent nearly $40 billion to develop the aircraft, which is just now
coming into full production, Air Force officials said.
"The proposed cut reflects the convergence of severe budgetary pressures imposed
by the Iraq war with some longstanding preferences among senior policymakers for
less emphasis on conventional weapons programs," said Mr. Thompson, a military
analyst at the Lexington Institute, a nonprofit group that advocates limited
A Defense Department spokesman, Eric Ruff, declined to discuss any specific
decisions on the Raptor program but said that Defense Secretary Donald H.
Rumsfeld and his deputy, Paul D. Wolfowitz, had spoken with lawmakers in recent
days "to discuss long-term modifications to the tactical fighter programs."
Dennis Boxx, a spokesman for the plane's manufacturer and the nation's largest
military contractor, Lockheed Martin, said the company had not been notified of
any changes in the program's status.
Mr. Ruff said the Pentagon's proposals ensured that the F/A-22 and another
aviation priority, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, "would remain healthy." He
also noted that the Pentagon was about to embark on its quadrennial review of
programs to ensure that the military had the right mix of weapons and equipment.
Analysts including Mr. Thompson noted, however, that the F/A-22 had never fit
into Mr. Rumsfeld's plan to transform the military into a leaner, more agile,
yet deadly force that put a greater premium things like improved space-based
sensors and communications.
Designed at the height of the cold war to penetrate Soviet radars without
detection and shoot down Soviet jets, the Raptor has taken nearly a quarter-century
to move from the drawing board to the assembly line to its first operation
squadron. The Air Force made structural changes to make the plane more relevant
in the post-Sept. 11 world, enhancing its ability to hit targets on the ground,
but some top aides to Mr. Rumsfeld remained unconvinced, Mr. Thompson said.
In February this year, the Pentagon announced the cancellation of the $38
billion Comanche helicopter program, another weapons system from the cold-war
The Pentagon's proposed cuts to the Raptor program require Congressional
approval, and by the divided reaction from friends and foes of the aircraft on
Tuesday, the brewing fight appeared to foreshadow many contentious debates on
Capitol Hill over domestic spending cuts. More than 1,000 subcontractors in 43
states helped build the F/A-22 and the political constituency to defend it.
"Every year, we've gone through this fight over the F-22, but we can't cut below
where we are now," Senator Saxby Chambliss, a Georgia Republican on the Armed
Services Committee, said in a telephone interview. "We'll fight to keep it where
But a senior Republican aide, speaking on the condition of anonymity because his
boss was not available during the holiday recess, responded: "While the program
does have its supporters, many in the Senate feel that given the current threat
situation and the tight budget environment, this is a responsible program in
which to cut back. We expect a lively debate on these cuts."
Sometimes the Pentagon floats proposed cuts like this as a trial balloon to
gauge the strength of the opposition. But two Republican officials, one in the
administration and another on Capitol Hill, said the proposal was no bluff.
"The Defense Department is moving forward to dramatically curtail production of
the F/A-22," said an administration official who was familiar with the Pentagon's
decision but spoke on condition of anonymity because many of the details are
still being worked out. "This is farther along than just a notional idea."
The Senate Republican aide said: "This is not a trial balloon."
The Raptor has endured a rough ride through its history. Two decades ago, the
Air Force planned to buy 760 Raptors, based in part on the original cost of $35
million a plane. Within the last decade, that shrank to 438 planes, then 339 at
the end of the 1990's, then 277 today.
Designed as the most technologically advanced fighter ever built, the Raptor
will have an advanced radar to make it easier for the plane to spot targets and
drop precision-guided bombs on targets like hostile air defense batteries, while
flying at 1,000 miles an hour.
The planes are currently in operational trials, and the program suffered its
first crash during takeoff at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., on Dec. 20. The first
combat-ready aircraft are scheduled to join a fighter wing at Langley Air Force
Base, Va., in December 2005.
But the need for such an advanced aircraft has come under increasing scrutiny,
as American troops battled insurgents in Iraq whose weapon of choice is a
makeshift bomb detonated by a garage-door opener. "All agencies are being asked
to identify programs that are duplicative or outdated," said Noam Nuesner, a
spokesman for the White House's Office of Management and Budget.
Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company
BTT for the day crew.
They ought to cancel the JSF instead. The FA22 sounds like it will be adaptable to a deep-strike F117-type mission. That should add value to the program.
The JSF just sounds like a boondoggle.
Troy: We will be flying aeroplanes made of paper, and we will simulate guns by going "BANG!" and bombs by going "BOOM!"
Didn't they do the same thing with the F-15 a long time ago?
China is making a lot of noise and pouring money into building up its military.
Russia is assisting and even going so far as to conduct joint training exercises with them.
We need to keep our eyes on the ball and not get caught with our pants down in 5 or 10 years.
Beat me to it.
We'll see a definate need for F/A-22's nd F-35's when China invades Tiawan. I just hope we have 'em.
Not to mention that the JSF will be the largest military export item IN HISTORY. They're lining up countries to buy this thing and it won't look good if the US cancels it. Might just doom a contractor or two. The JSF appears to be a good deal and a very competitive multi-role aircraft.
Why don't they just stop buying $900 dollar hammers and $600 toilet seats.
They could ax the XM-8 program as well
Maybe the Air Force could hold a bake sale? You know, like the bumpersticker says?
True, the current fleet is comprised of aging aircraft, some around 30 years old, but our Air Force is still very much superior to any other air force in existence.
No we can't!
But it would be fun to try - flying saucers, giant dirigibles with rayguns and 20 inch cannons, floating cities circulating in the ocean's currents, loooong fences with armed watch towers along the borders (this isn't a stretch, we just don't have the will), geothermal wells at every home, hypersonic spy planes, and so on.