F-22 flies into stormy weather on Capitol Hill

Last Thursday was a rough one for Lockheed Martin, whose Marietta plant manufactures the F-22 Raptor fighter jet. First, a House subcommittee heard testimony from the General Accounting Office that the price of the high-tech weapons system may run as much as $9 billion over budget, and that skyrocketing costs may force the Air Force to accept 85 fewer aircraft than expected.

The Air Force projects that the overrun is really only about $2 billion. But if the GAO is right, it means the original 1985 contract calling for 750 planes — which has already been slashed to 333 — may in fact result in only 237 Raptors.

If the project ever gets that far. Representatives blasted the soaring costs, which have risen from an estimated $50 million per plane to the current projection of $192 million apiece.

It only got worse. The panel then heard from the Project on Government Oversight, an independent watchdog organization, which said the F-22 threatened to "spend the Air Force into unilateral disarmament."

The F-22 has had a rocky flight so far. Its production was nearly scuttled in 1999 by budget-conscious lawmakers concerned that the soaring costs of an unproven weapons system might siphon funds from other military priorities. Six pre-production models of the aircraft are already in the works, and Congress is slated to decide whether to fund limited production of the aircraft later this month.??

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