|FUNDING THE F-22|
September 20, 1999
Backers of the F-22 are still struggling to get the U.S.'s newest jet fighter off the ground. At $200 million per plane, some in Congress argue that the F-22 project's price tag is too high for current defense needs. Can the project survive?
SPOKESPERSON (Radio Ad): These days, America is making decisions that is not presented in a newspaper or uttered across a conference table. It's crafted from titanium and code.
KWAME HOLMAN: Throughout the last few weeks, the Washington D.C. air waves have been filled with radio ads touting the promise of the air force's next generation fighter plane.
SPOKESPERSON (Radio Ad): The F-22 will give our forces the ability to win quickly and decisively.
|Beyond the ad campaign|
|KWAME HOLMAN: What the ads don't say is that the F-22 is
in trouble on Capitol Hill and in danger of never getting off the ground.
Development of the F-22 began during the 1980's. The new fleet of jet
fighters was designed to replace the F-15 and guarantee US air superiority
over the Soviet Union.
But the Soviet Union no longer exists. Meanwhile, production delays and design changes have boosted the cost estimate of the F-22 from $90 million per plane to $200 million. The Air Force already has spent $20 billion on the jet fighter and all it has to show for the expenditure are two prototype aircraft.
REP. JERRY LEWIS: This program at this point in time is at least several billion dollars beyond what anybody could have anticipated it to be. So clearly that would suggest it's time to review.
KWAME HOLMAN: California Republican Jerry Lewis heads the House subcommittee that oversees defense spending. Throughout his career Lewis has been a steadfast advocate for a strong military, but he's concerned the F-22 may have become too expensive to build.
REP. JERRY LEWIS: Appropriated dollars are taxpayer dollars. We have to make sure they are being used in a sensible way and not automatically reflecting the wish list of one of our forces.
KWAME HOLMAN: Despite mounting criticism on Capitol Hill, the Air Force was confident funding for the F-22's production line was secure for years to come. In fact, this summer the Senate voted to fund the program fully next year, approving $3 billion to build the first six jet fighters. But the House, following Lewis' recommendation, eliminated production funding for the F-22, setting up a showdown this week between negotiators from both chambers.
The House cut stunned Lockheed-Martin, the primary developer of the F-22, and it has been fighting back ever since. Earlier this month, Lockheed-Martin called the project's subcontractors to Washington to plan strategy to keep the F-22 alive. That plan included arming the contractors with persuasive arguments and unleashing them on members of Congress. One of those arguments was the simple reminder that work on the F-22 takes place in 46 states, supplying jobs for 21,000 workers. Micky Blackwell is president and chief operating officer of Lockheed's aeronautics division.
MICKY BLACKWELL: As they talk to their senators and representatives around Washington, there's been a lot of press reports and things in the newspaper about various numbers of what the airplane costs, what the status of the program is, and we just want to make sure that all of our people understand that the program is going extraordinarily well, is making all of its cost caps, and is fulfilling everything the Air Force has asked it to do.
KWAME HOLMAN: Lockheed-Martin is the nation's top defense contractor. Last year its sales topped $26 billion. It's also a big campaign contributor to both major political parties and its lobbyists are used to getting their way on Capitol Hill. Losing the F-22 contract would be an unprecedented defeat, and, according to Lockheed-Martin's F-22 program manager, even the one-year pause in production proposed by the House would be a devastating setback economically.
BOB REARDEN: A pause, you have to recognize, is not really one year. The minimum turns out to be three years because of the way that the contracts have been set up to provide the US Government the lowest price in this portion of the program. And so there isn't anything called a one-year pause per se. The one year basically means that, by US Air Force estimates, that the price of the program would go up $6.5 billion.
|Promoting the F-22|
KWAME HOLMAN: Lockheed-Martin has pushed the F-22 project, not just in Washington, but around the country. It has promoted the capabilities of its new jet fighter by taking a cockpit simulator on the road and hosting demonstrations for local politicians and media.
DICK MATHER: Well, what you're looking at is the layout of the F-22 cockpit. Let me walk you through the displays.
KWAME HOLMAN: Dick Mather, a former fighter pilot in Vietnam and now a Lockheed-Martin representative, demonstrated the F-22's stealth technology.
DICK MATHER: That little fan right there shows the enemy's ability to see you with his radar, so you are aware whether that enemy can see you at all with his radar. We can't do that with today's technology, and in the F-22 we can do that. So you can go into the battlefield, assess the battlefield, see who the good guys are and what they're doing, who the bad guys are and what they're doing, see what the bad guys are doing; keep a situation, shoot them before they see you. First look, first shot, first kill.
KWAME HOLMAN: Mather also said current planes like the F-15 can't be refitted with F-22 technology.
DICK MATHER: And you can't take today's F-15 and put some coatings on the outside of it and get that cross-section of radar improvement. So you have to design the airplane from the ground up and that's the cost of stealth, but that's the operational effectiveness of stealth for our fighter pilots-- huge operational advantage.
KWAME HOLMAN: Retired Rear Admiral Eugene Carroll works with a public interest group that opposes many Pentagon projects. The former Navy aviator said it remains to be seen whether the technology shown in the F-22 simulator will work in the real thing.
REAR ADMIRAL EUGENE CARROLL: The simulator over here would make a wonderful arcade game. It doesn't represent any airplane that's ever been built. What it represents may never be built. It's just an approximation of what they'd like to build, and yet they're spending all this money in an effort to hype the whole program.
KWAME HOLMAN: Admiral Carroll also charges Lockheed-Martin is rushing the first F-22's into production before all of its systems are developed and tested.
REAR ADMIRAL EUGENE CARROLL: They want these billions and billions of dollars and they're perfectly willing to waste money in order to keep the program in production. They don't recognize the fact that the present air fleet we have, the air warfare team we have, will be dominant for another 15 years at least. Nobody can come close to us in that period of time, and yet they want to put all these resources into one new airplane.
|Plans at the Pentagon|
KWAME HOLMAN: In fact, the Pentagon has made plans to build three new types of jet fighters. In addition to the F-22, the all-purpose joint strike fighter and the Navy's FA-18 also are in development. The estimated price tag for all three lines of fighters is $350 billion over the next two decades. Lieutenant General Gregory Martin, a key decision maker in determining air force acquisitions, argues the costs are warranted.
LT. GEN. GREGORY MARTIN: The American people expect us to win quickly with overwhelming advantage and minimum loss of life and now minimal loss of life on the enemy side as well. That's what they are expecting. In order to do that, you have to have a fore structure that is in some cases not only the very best, but also agile and has an ability to do multiple tasks and multiple missions.
KWAME HOLMAN: The decision, however, will be made by Congress, particularly by those members of the House and Senate who will sit across the table from each other and argue for and against continued funding of the F-22. Texas Republican Kay Bailey Hutchison will represent the Senate view in favor of the F- 22.
REP. KAY BAILEY HUTCHISON: Mostly I think members of Congress who are very, very strong on national defense want the capability for us to be a superpower and we have now established that we are an air superiority force that cannot be matched in the world. So I'm going to be what General Eisenhower wanted in Congress and that is people who would support an overwhelming force in order to minimize the loss of American lives.
KWAME HOLMAN: Jerry Lewis will argue the House position, which he says is not that much different from Senator Hutchison's.
REP. JERRY LEWIS: We want to make sure that as we come in the room and begin to discuss this total package together, that we all have the same thing in mind, that is that America be the strongest country in the world into the next century. I think our bill and the Senate's intent reflects that concern, but above and beyond that, I've been attempting to communicate initially with my friends in the Senate that we have to make sure that each of these forces has a broad balance and isn't out of balance because of their fixation on one asset over another.
KWAME HOLMAN: And the military's joint chiefs of staff have made clear their position, sending a letter to Congressional leaders stating: "We speak with one voice on this issue: America needs the F-22 to ensure that our military forces always achieve air superiority in any conflict." And as for Lockheed-Martin and its long list of subcontractors, there's a clear sense of urgency reflected in the message outlining their position.
SPOKESPERSON: The F-22 becomes fully operational in the next few years, and the sooner, the better. A message from Lockheed-Martin, Boeing, Pratt & Whitney and the F-22 team.