Officials with defense contractor Lockheed Martin are already convinced that the struggle to get the F/A-22 fighter jet in the air is now a “done deal,” according to a story on the business cover of Tuesday’s New York Times (“Air Superiority at $258 Million a Pop”). While it is true that the fighter conceived as a cold war weapon is a political snowball rolling downhill, POGO Senior Defense Investigator Eric Miller points out that the Raptor has yet to formally complete operational testing and has not been approved for full-rate production by the Pentagon (unless Lockheed knows something Congress and the public don’t).
Lockheed Vice President Rob Weiss told the Times that “today all the technological challenges are behind us.” That’s not what we’re hearing. POGO sources say there are still problems with the aircraft’s highly-complex avionics – problems that could bring the total program price tag to about $80 billion from current estimates of $71.8 billion.
And another thing. If you use Government Accountability Office numbers, only 218 of the aircraft will be built, not 277 as the Air Force predicts. If the 218 number proves correct, the per aircraft acquisition cost could end up jumping to $329 million. It seems odd that Lockheed officials are so smug about the F/A-22 program in light of the fact that GAO said earlier this year the costs were so out of control that the Air Force needed to come up with a new business model that justifies the need for such hefty expenditures.
FRIDAY UPDATE: Today the NYT Editorial Board chimes in and concurs with POGO's assessment:
Americans can now feel reassured that if the Soviet Union ever springs back to life, restarts the cold war and designs a new MIG fighter more advanced than anything now in the skies, the United States Air Force is ready. Unfortunately, when it comes to fighting today's war in Iraq, the Pentagon is still struggling to get enough armor into the field to protect its exhausted and badly stretched troops and rebuild their battle-damaged equipment.
There are few more telling symbols of the Pentagon's disastrously misplaced priorities than this week's debut of the F/A-22 Raptor, the most expensive fighter ever built. This gold-plated cold war plane enters service some 23 years after it was first designed and at four times its originally projected price, even after adjusting for inflation. Every F-22 will cost taxpayers more than a quarter of a billion dollars. The Air Force plans to buy 277.
The $72 billion for the Raptor could be much better spent protecting America's ground forces against the dangers they face today and will continue to face for the conceivable future.