Fighter Gap

The House Armed Services Committee’s addition of $369 million in long-lead funding for 12 F-22s in its version of the Fiscal 2010 defense authorization bill is a welcome move for F-22 supporters, but raises some thorny issues about just how the production process would unfold. (Armed Services Committee markup summary) The 12 additional Raptors would be assembled starting in Fiscal 2011, which industry sources said would create a 10-month gap between production of the last four F-22s now on order and the first that could be delivered with Fiscal 2011 funding. It’s not clear where any bridging money would come from to keep the employees busy and lights on at Lockheed Martin’s F-22 assembly plant in Marietta, Ga., in the interim. Company officials have said privately they can’t foot the bill themselves, and there are zero prospects for a foreign sale, despite Japan’s interest, unless Congress repeals the Obey amendment barring F-22 exports. Prior to the committee’s action, Capitol Hill watchers had expected that any move to buy more F-22s would have entailed a one-year order for 20 more airplanes to be built starting in Fiscal 2010. Perhaps shedding light on the enigma: The committee vote on the additional F-22 money was a tight 31 to 30.