Surmounting the Barrier

The Air Force is expected to award Lockheed Martin a contract today for the advance procurement of long-lead parts and materials for four F-22s, with an option for 16 more aircraft. The pending deal is designed to keep the front end of the F-22 production line active without pause until early next year while the new Administration of President-elect Barack Obama decides if it wants to keep buying F-22s or close the line. More symbolically for F-22 supporters, it will take the stealth fighter program—the object of dispute in the past between USAF and Office of the Secretary of Defense officials and now the source of some rancor between OSD and Congress—beyond the OSD-imposed 183-aircraft cap and potentially lays the groundwork for the service to acquire dozens more. We understand that the Air Force leadership is currently reviewing the F-22 requirement, but in the past the service has stood firmly by the number 381. Even this contract is not without its controversy. Earlier this month, OSD weapons czar John Young authorized the release of $50 million to cover the advance parts for the four F-22s. But Congress had provided a full $140 million in the Fiscal 2009 defense authorization act to buy parts for a lot of 20 F-22s to keep the manufacturing line fully engaged during the period of Presidential transition. Rep. Neil Abercrombie (D-Hawaii), chairman of the House Armed Services air and land forces subcommittee, told Young during a Nov. 19 F-22 hearing that the Congressional language is “very specific” and did not give OSD the option to obligate only “$50 million of the $140 million.” But Young said OSD’s read of the law is that it can obligate up to the $140 million ceiling. OSD’s action, Young said, still preserves the production option.