The Pentagon has decided to delay a decision to begin production of
10 F-22 fighter jets because congressionally mandated testing of the new
aircraft has yet to be completed.

The Air Force’s newest fighter, the F-22 Raptor.

Lt. Col. Art Haubold, Air Force spokesman for the F-22 program, told
WorldNetDaily that the Defense Acquisition Board — which was scheduled
to meet today to approve the production of the next 10 aircraft —
decided late yesterday to cancel its meeting, effectively postponing its
production decision.

“The Defense Department canceled the meeting because the Air Force
hasn’t met the exit [testing] criteria yet,” Haubold said, adding that
testing hasn’t been completed because of poor weather.

The Pentagon’s decision to delay production comes on the heels of an
accusation by a government watchdog group that claimed yesterday the
Defense Department was trying to rush the F-22 into production before
all required testing criteria had been performed.

According to a statement by the

Project on Government
or POGO, a Washington, D.C.-based government agency watchdog organization, the Defense Acquisition Board, staffed by senior Pentagon acquisition personnel and F-22 program managers, “is expected to give the green light” to the production schedule, even though “the aircraft has not met as many as five out of 11 testing criteria required to be met before funding is released.”

According to Haubold, the plane’s required testing is further along than POGO claimed, however.

“We had three that were left — three exit criteria,” he said. “We had to do block 3.0 [advanced avionics software] testing; we had to do the radar cross-section test [for stealth capabilities]; and we had to do the first flight” test of a third aircraft.

The Air Force was scheduled to conduct those tests yesterday afternoon, but Haubold said he didn’t know if the weather was good enough to perform them.

The tests are being done near Atlanta, Ga.

The F-15 is expected to remain in the Air Force’s aircraft inventories.

The plane, known officially as the F-22 Raptor, is being hailed as an air dominance fighter set to replace the Air Force’s current top-line fighter, the F-15 Eagle series. Boeing and Lockheed Martin are building the new fighter.

It will feature twin Pratt & Whitney engines; six radar-guided AIM-120C advanced medium-range air-to-air missiles (or two 1,000-pound class GBU-32 joint direct attack munitions in place of four of the AIM-120Cs) in main weapons bay; two heat-seeking AIM-9 Sidewinder short-range air-to-air missiles in side weapons bays (one in each bay); and one M61A2 20-mm multi-barrel cannon. It is flown by a single pilot.

Published information regarding the aircraft said it flew its first test flight Sept. 7, 1997, but POGO noted that, “as of August [2000], the F-22 has flown less than 19 percent of the total hours of scheduled testing, and at the writing of this report, five of the 11 congressionally mandated tests have not been completed.”

Haubold disputed that, saying the F-22 would undergo more testing than the F-15, F-16, and the F/A-18 fighter planes did during development.

Nevertheless, the watchdog group also said the plane’s airframe has yet to undergo a required laboratory static-load test, adding that that test would not likely be completed soon “because an aluminum test rig broke during a recent test.”

The plane is also required to undergo fatigue testing to demonstrate how it will handle and perform as it ages. The Air Force was tasked with completing 40 percent of the aircraft’s fatigue testing before production began.

Currently, the Air Force is operating nine F-22s, though all are still in testing phases. The eventual production schedule calls for building 10 planes in 2001, 16 in 2002, 24 in 2003 and 36 per year between 2004 and 2010. In 2011, 29 planes are scheduled for production.

In total, the Air Force wants to purchase 339 aircraft by 2013, Haubold said, adding that current mandatory testing would likely be completed by mid-January, “weather permitting.”

Still, POGO and other critics question the need for the new aircraft.

“Aides to President-elect George W. Bush have said they want an immediate review of tactical aircraft programs to determine whether or not the Pentagon is buying too many fighter jets at the expense of needed transport and refueling aircraft,” the group said.

“After all, it was Vice President-elect Richard Cheney who in 1991 as defense secretary boldly terminated development of the Navy’s $57 billion A-12 attack plane, the largest weapons program ever terminated by the Pentagon,” POGO added. “Cheney also attempted, without success, to nix the V-22 Osprey death trap during his tenure as defense secretary.”

A 1994 General Accounting Office report said, “Our analysis shows that the F-15 exceeds the most advanced threat system expected to exist. We assumed no improvements will be made to the F-15, but the capability of the ‘most advanced threat’ assumes certain modifications. Further, our analysis indicates that the current inventory of F-15s can be economically maintained in a structurally sound condition until 2015 or later,” when the U.S. Air Force can be expected to face parity in the air.

“Since the F-22 program entered full-scale development in 1991, the severity of the projected military threat in terms of quantities and capabilities has declined,” said the GAO. “Instead of confronting thousands of modern Soviet fighters, U.S. air forces are expected to confront potential adversary air forces that include few fighters that have the capability to challenge the F-15 — the U.S. front line fighter.”

According to Boeing, the F-22 is only slated to replace the F-15C air superiority model; the F-15A, B, D and E models will remain in Air Force and Air National Guard service.

But, Haubold said, “the Air Force believes the country needs the F-22 to ensure air dominance in the 21st century. [The plane] also fulfills our air superiority requirements that we laid out” in an earlier Pentagon planning report, “Joint Vision 2020.”

“We believe this program will meet all its requirements on time,” he added, noting that the F-22 “has some real revolutionary technologies involved.

“It’s going to be a real revolution in military affairs,” he said. “This is a big player in the Air Force’s plans” to be prepared for air warfare in the coming years.

At current planning levels, Air Force officials said they plan to put the F-22 into active service by 2005. Pentagon officials say the plane is capable of speeds “around Mach 2,” but said its operating ceiling and overall weight are classified.

Russian Su-27 variants are said to be superior to advanced U.S. fighter aircraft.

Aircraft experts say the closest fighter in class to the most modern U.S. air superiority fighter — the F-15 — is the Russian-made and designed Su-27 Flanker, sold as the Su-27 MKI to India and China recently.

Published information on the Flanker says it, too, is a long-range air superiority fighter, comparable to the U.S. F-15 but superior in many respects.

Russia’s newest Flanker variant, the Su-37.

First entering Soviet air force service in 1986, the aircraft has since been upgraded numerous times to include a carrier version and a two-seat land-attack version known as the Su-27IB.

The newest Flanker variant — the Su-37 — reportedly is being built with Thrust Vector Control, which gives pilots remarkable maneuvering capabilities by rotating the jet’s exhaust nozzles.

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Experts concerned over 3-way arms race

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