Defense Secretary Robert Gates said yesterday the decisions on the F-22 in the Pentagon’s Fiscal 2009 spending request reflect his desire to retain the option for the next Administration to decide the fate of the stealth aircraft’s production line. “My objective is to get the new Administration an option,” he told the Senate Armed Services Committee Wednesday while testifying on the Pentagon’s newly issued $515.4 billion spending proposal. He confirmed that OSD intends to ask for four additional Raptors as part of a broader wartime emergency supplemental request in Fiscal 2009. This will extend the production line somewhat to buy time for the next Administration to make a decision. “I have been told that this will keep the line open and give them that option,” he said. Gates also acknowledged that the grounding of a significant portion of the F-15 fleet recently was a big factor in the department’s thinking. ”That was an issue that helped persuade me to keep that line open,” he said. At the same time, Gates also voiced concerns about extending the F-22 production line much further, noting that the continuation of Raptor production might become a cost/benefit issue, especially as the F-35 line starts ramping up, and “encroach” on the F-35 buy. Gates made these comments when responding to a question posed by Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), in whose state the Raptor is assembled. The Senator asked how confident Gates is that the current 183-aircraft program of record for the F-22 is correct given the proliferation of advanced surface-to-air missile systems and homeland defense needs. DOD has asked neither for additional Raptors beyond 183 nor for funding to terminate the F-22 production line in Fiscal 2009.
The Air Force isn’t giving up on its long-frustrated efforts to retire older aircraft, as the department’s leader continues to talk with lawmakers about plans to free up funds for its modernization efforts, Undersecretary of the Air Force Gina Ortiz Jones said Nov. 30.