F/A-22 Program Likely to Be Scaled Back

Times Staff Writer

Faced with an unexpected $690-million cost overrun in its troubled F/A-22 fighter program, the Pentagon may slash the number of planes it purchases from Lockheed Martin Corp., a senior official said Wednesday.

The development is an embarrassment for the Air Force and for Lockheed Martin, which designed the plane at its Skunk Works facility in Burbank. The program has seen rising costs and recent management shake-ups.

With about 250 aerospace contractors across Southern California making up a large share of the F/A-22 “Raptor” work force, cuts in the program are expected to have ramifications for the region’s economy, even though the plane’s assembly plant is in Marietta, Ga.

Lockheed has said the value of the F/A-22 contract to Southland suppliers -- from Raytheon Corp. in El Segundo, where engineers developed the main computer for the aircraft, to BAE Systems’ electronics group in Santa Monica -- could surpass $11 billion.


“The Air Force has repeatedly stated that it has a requirement of at least 381 Raptors,” Lockheed spokesman Greg Caires said. “Lockheed Martin and the contractor team, however, are prepared to build however many F/A-22s the Pentagon decides to buy.”

Neither Pentagon nor Air Force officials anticipated the cost overrun in the Lockheed Martin program, according to Edward Aldridge, the Pentagon’s senior acquisition official. Problems in the program have already caused the Pentagon and one contractor to replace their project management teams.

“I was not happy, nor was the Air Force,” Aldridge told reporters. “One of the ways you pay for it is reduce the number of airplanes, and that may be what we have to do.”

It’s unclear what led to the added costs of the F/A-22, but Aldridge said some speculate that testing of the plane has been slower and more problematic than expected. A sophisticated fighter that can fly at supersonic speed without using fuel-guzzling afterburners, the Raptor is meant to be the Air Force’s fighter for the 21st century.

The Pentagon initially planned to buy 750 of the planes at about $35 million each when it was proposed in 1985. It slashed that number to 648 aircraft in 1991, to 438 in 1993 and to 339 in 1999, raising the per-plane cost to $99 million, a Lockheed official said.

The Pentagon and Lockheed replaced the managers in charge of the program this week. On Monday the Air Force replaced Brig. Gen. William Jabour, the program executive officer for fighter and bomber programs, and Brig. Gen. Mark Shackleford, the systems program officer, with Brig. Gen. Richard Lewis and Col. Thomas Owen. On Tuesday, Lockheed replaced program manager Bob Rearden with Ralph Heath.

Critics want the Air Force to cut F/A-22 purchases and instead buy newer models of the F-15, a tactical fighter designed to give the Air Force superiority in aerial combat, saying it would be less expensive.

Despite praise as a stealthy, long-range bomber, the F/A-22 has been rife with controversy from the day in 1991 when Lockheed beat out Northrop Grumman Corp.'s proposed YF-23 in a competition to replace the aging F-15, first made 30 years ago. Originally called the F-22, it was renamed the F/A-22, adding the “A” to reflect its capacity for ground attack.