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More on the Air Force “Star Wars” Over F-22

by Ward Carroll on February 18, 2008

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Our friend and sometimes DT poster Bob Cox of Fort Worth Star-Telegram fame had this piece on Saturday:

General reprimanded for disagreeing on F-22

A senior Air Force general picked a bad time to publicly disagree with Defense Secretary Robert Gates over his opposition to buying more F-22 Raptors.

After weeks of debate over the future of Lockheed Martin’s high-priced stealth fighter jet, Gates sent Air Force leaders a message to tone down the rhetoric by having a top general reprimanded for suggesting that the service would find a way to circumvent Pentagon and White House objections.

Experts don’t expect Air Force officials to change their minds about the need to buy more F-22s after the disciplining of Gen. Bruce Carlson. But a Washington insider said Friday that service leaders will turn down the volume.

“The secretary of the Air Force has sent a message to all of his four stars [generals] saying they need to be more circumspect in their language,” said Loren Thompson of the Lexington Institute, who has close ties to the Air Force and is a consultant to Lockheed.

Leaders of the Air Force and the Pentagon have been engaged for weeks in an unusually public and testy disagreement about the future of the F-22 program.

The latest developments were spurred by Carlson’s comments published this week in the trade journal Aviation Week.

The general, speaking to reporters Wednesday, said the Air Force was “committed to funding 380″ F-22s regardless of the Bush administration’s budget policies. “We’re building a program right now to do that. It’s going to be incredibly difficult … but we’ve done this before.”

Carlson’s comments came as Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England was testifying before congressional committees.

In an exchange during a Senate Budget Committee hearing Tuesday, Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, asked whether the Pentagon would buy F-22s to replace aging F-15s, some of which have been grounded because of structural defects.

“I do not believe the F-22 will be the replacement for the F-15,” England said. “I would expect instead to try and accelerate the [F-35] joint strike fighter,” which he called a capable and far less costly replacement.

The Air Force has long insisted that it needs at least 381 F-22s, which cost about $175 million each, according to budget documents. Bush’s 2009 defense budget provides funds to buy 20 F-22s, which would bring the total force to 183 planes.

England and Gates have insisted that they do not see a compelling need to buy more than a few additional F-22s, especially with the government facing the costs of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as developing and procuring future weapons.

“The reality is, we are fighting two wars … and the F-22 has not performed a single mission in either theater,” Gates said in an appearance before a Senate committee last week.

Without an additional multiyear order for F-22s, Lockheed says it will have to begin shutting down the assembly line.

The company builds the plane’s midfuselage in Fort Worth, where about 1,800 people work on the program. It assembles the plane in Marietta, Ga.

About 8,000 people at Lockheed’s Fort Worth plant are working on the F-35 program, which is expected to provide most of the facility’s work for the next 20 to 30 years.

Winslow Wheeler, an analyst with the Center for Defense Information in Washington and a critic of the F-22 program, said Gates’ rebuke would have little effect on the argument over the F-22 because Congress will likely grant the wishes of the Air Force and Lockheed and provide money for more F-22s.

“There’s 44 states where there’s F-22 production,” Wheeler said, adding that even liberal Democrats such as Wyden like to preserve defense jobs.

The office of Air Force Secretary Michael Wynne released a statement late Friday saying that the “F-22 program is critical for the nation’s defense” but that Carlson’s comments “misrepresent the position of the U.S. Air Force. The Air Force wholeheartedly supports the President’s budget request for the F-22 program.“

– Christian

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