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The F-22 Raptor: Setting the Standard for Defense Contracts

 

By : U.S. Representative Bob Barr (GA-7)

 

December 7, 1999

 

 

 

Mr. Chairman, I appreciate your holding this hearing today, and I thank you for giving me the opportunity to set the record straight about the F-22 program.

 

In their zeal to oppose the F-22 Raptor, some critics of the program have resorted to the inaccurate argument that the program is plagued by massive problems. Sadly, they are often assisted by many in the national media who refuse to believe the defense industry has successfully reformed many of the procurement problems that made headlines years ago.

 

It is simply not the case that the F-22 has experienced unusual cost overruns, production problems or testing delays. In fact, from day one, the F-22 procurement process has served as a model for effective, thrifty and efficient contractual relationships between the Pentagon and the defense industry. It is one thing for opponents of the program to make an honest effort to argue we don’t need the F-22. It is another matter entirely for critics to inaccurately argue the program is being mismanaged.

 

The facts are clear. The F-22 flight test program is proceeding extremely well, with the first two flight test aircraft having completed over 470 hours of productive flight testing. Flight test results of the engines and aircraft have closely matched predictions, giving us further reason to be confident as the flight envelope continues to expand. Additionally, the F-22 program completed all program criteria for 1998. As Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Ted Stevens recently said, the F-22 is already "the most reviewed aircraft in history."

 

Cost overruns in the F-22 development program amount to $3.5 billion, which amounts to about 5% of the total program cost. Of these overruns, 41% or $1.55 billion, were caused by congressional funding changes. There is a clear principle at work here. Every time Congress changes its mind about the funding parameters it has set, a ripple effect requires changes the program and often causes delays, which cost money. If critics of the program are looking for explanations for overruns, they need look no further than Congress for a large part of the answer.

 

In addition to inaccurately arguing the program is mismanaged, some critics charge that the F-22 carries an overall price tag that is too high even without overruns. This is not the case either.

 

The Air Force estimates that the total 20-year cost to develop and build the F-22 is $63 billion (not accounting for inflation). In constant 1999 dollars, the total development and production cost of each of the 341 F-22s would be $172 million. Since the plane has been under development since 1991, much of this money has already been spent. The cost to actually build each F-22, which does not include R&D costs, is estimated at only $85 million.

 

Since we’ve already spent billions to develop this aircraft -- which is the most expensive step for the program -- it seems extraordinarily shortsighted to attack the program now. In real world terms, this would be the equivalent of agreeing to purchase a top of the line Cadillac, making years of payments on it, and then trading it in for a loss on a used Yugo when you get close to paying it off.

 

With an average aircraft "sticker price" of less that $85 million, the F-22 will cost less than one percent of the Department of Defense budget during its production period. In its most costly year -- 2003 -- the F-22 will consume less than 5.6 percent of the Air Force budget; 1.7 percent of the defense budget; and 0.25 percent of the total federal budget. Air superiority is the foundation of practically every American battle plan on the books. When you consider the importance of its task, the portion of the defense budget we are committing to it is quite small.

 

While it may be true the F-22 costs twice as much to produce as the F-15, this analysis fails to consider two significant factors. First, the fact that F-15's have been produced in such large volume for more than two decades has substantially lowered the per-unit production cost of the aircraft. I have no doubt that purchasing more F-22's would substantially narrow the cost gap between the two aircraft. Of course, it goes without saying that attempts by Congress to lower overall procurement below the Air Force request would further widen the gap between the two programs.

 

Secondly, without the F-22, the F-15 would have to be upgraded to the point that it becomes -- for all practical purposes -- a new aircraft. Remember, at least four other aircraft in development around the world will equal or exceed the capabilities of the F-15, which is approaching 25 years of age. Factoring in upgrade costs to keep the F-15 competitive, the gap between the two programs shrinks to nothing.

 

The House and Senate Armed Services Committees, which have direct oversight responsibility for the program have stated publicly that they are confident cost overruns are being addressed. The appropriate oversight is mandated, and if Lockheed does not stay within strictly controlled caps, the company must either make up the difference or cancel the program.

 

In a letter to Congress during the F-22 debate, Secretary of Defense William Cohen told us that "[c]anceling the F-22 program means we cannot guarantee air superiority in future conflicts." Six former Secretaries of Defense have echoed Secretary Cohen’s words, calling the F-22 a "essential" program that must be fully funded. These are the true defense experts in Washington, and I would humbly suggest that Congress try listening to them for a change.

Again, thank you for holding this hearing today, and allowing me to submit these comments for the record.