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Bush Budget Defers F-22 Decision To Next Administration

Proposal Would Fund Last 20 Planes Due Under Current Contract

As more details of the budget plan President Bush presented this week become known, it's appears the lame-duck administration has opted to leave several decisions for the next president to make... including whether the Air Force will receive more F-22 Raptors.

Not surprisingly, reports The Fort Worth (TX) Star-Telegram, the $515.4 billion FY 2009 defense budget includes funding for the last 20 of a 60-aircraft purchase that began last year. It does not include money to begin shutting the line down after that, however, as the Pentagon wants to do after 2011 with only 183 fighters delivered.

As ANN has reported, the US Air Force has long argued it needs at least 381 Raptors to maintain US air superiority, and replace aging fighters in the current fleet. A series of recent incidents involving F-15 Eagles -- once the Air Force's premier fighter, over 20 years ago -- adds impetus to the service's call for more planes.

While reiterating they only want 183 Raptors, even some Pentagon officials have backed away from a hard shutdown deadline of late. In recent testimony before Congress, Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England said the line would remain open to build additional F-22s, to replace fighters that may be lost in combat.

A final decision, however, will need to wait until after Bush's successor takes office in January 2009. "I do believe... that the next administration will have to make the call on what they want to do, ultimately," said Pentagon Comptroller Tina Jonas, after the budget plan's unveiling.

Workers at Lockheed Martin and Boeing -- who build the fuselage and empennage segments, respectively, on the F-22 --- aren't complaining about a lack of hard news. The delay gives them some breathing room, and the hope of continued orders.

Air Force officials also are breathing a sigh of relief... as money originally earmarked towards closing down the Raptor line would instead be diverted towards repairs for the troubled F-15 fleet under the budget proposal, according to Vice Adm. Steve Stanley, director for force structure, resources and assessment for the Defense Department's joint staff.

Keeping the F-22 production line in business for now, he added, leaves "a decision about F-22 to the next administration, which will have to execute the program either way it goes."

FMI: www.pentagon.mil, www.lockheedmartin.com, www.boeing.com/ids, www.f22raptor.com

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