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Chicago Tribune February 09, 2005

Lobbying begins to save 2 planes

Senators prod defense secretary

By Stephen J. Hedges

Less than 24 hours after the Bush administration announced its plans to save billions of dollars by scaling back two new Air Force planes, a group of senators on Tuesday launched a campaign to rescind those cuts.

Chief among them was Sen. Johnny Isakson, a Republican from Georgia, where 8,500 workers assemble both planes--the F/A-22 fighter jet and the C-130J Hercules transport--at the Lockheed Martin plant in Marietta.

After attending a Pentagon breakfast with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Isakson said the secretary promised that indeed he already was reconsidering the C-130J cut.

"Rumsfeld said that he and the department are re-evaluating the C-130 proposal," Isakson said. "It was a very positive sign."

With the release this week of President Bush's proposed 2006 budget calling for hundreds of program cuts, those with vested interests in how the federal government spends its money wasted no time lobbying decision-makers--members of Congress and key administration officials--to save those ventures they care about.

Lobbying Rumsfeld

As part of that initial effort, some senators went to the Pentagon on Tuesday for a scheduled breakfast with Rumsfeld and questioned the wisdom of reducing the number of F/A-22 Raptor fighter jets that would be produced, and of canceling the new C-130J Hercules transport altogether.

Rumsfeld spokesman Bryan Whitman said he was not at the breakfast and could not confirm discussion about the C-130J. But Whitman said, "The department is conducting a mobility capability study that will update our overall mobility requirements."

However one interprets the breakfast, it was no surprise that members of Congress stepped up quickly to take issue with the administration's proposed $419.3 billion military budget. Nor was it a surprise that the Raptor and the Hercules, two projects whose development costs have skyrocketed, would be on the chopping block.

"The F-22 should go away now," said Winslow Wheeler, a former Senate Budget Committee staff member and author of a book that examines Congress' role in authorizing multibillion-dollar military projects.

"It should have been canceled long ago. Rumsfeld, for all his talk and all of his bravado, has been a pussycat on dealing with these programs," Wheeler said.

While some federal agencies face budget cuts in 2006, the Pentagon's budget is projected to grow by about $19 billion over this fiscal year. It includes increases of $9.7 billion for the Air Force, which faces two painful reductions if Congress goes along with Bush's proposal.

One would authorize buying 179 Raptors, which have been 19 years in the making and only recently were put into production. That would be 96 fewer than the Air Force was expecting.

At one time, the Air Force planned on a fleet of 750. So far, 45 Raptors have been delivered, according to Lockheed Martin, the primary manufacturer.

The second cut would end production of the C-130J next year. To date, 121 have been delivered and 59 more are on order, according to Lockheed Martin, which also makes that plane.

The Raptors, under development since 1986, originally were designed as a superstealthy dog-fighter. Since the Soviet Union's collapse, the Air Force has sought to recast the plane as a penetrating aircraft that can strike at air defenses and deliver bombs. That change, though, would require an estimated $11 billion more to modify the planes, according to an Air Force projection last March.

The same month, the General Accounting Office, later renamed the Government Accountability Office, issued an audit titled, "Changing Conditions Drive need for New F/A-22 Business Case," a less-than-subtle suggestion that the Air Force was buying a very expensive plane for a mission that time had left behind.

Critics point out that the Pentagon is concurrently developing the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, raising doubts about the need for two new fighter aircraft.

The C-130J has experienced a similar fate. It was viewed in 1996 as a longer, better replacement for the venerable C-130 fleet, but C-130J development delays and problems pushed costs up and performance down. A new C-130J could cost about $60 million to $80 million, depending on how many the Air Force buys, about double the cost of the planes it is replacing.

Last month, the Pentagon's office of operational test and evaluation determined that the C-130J "is not operationally suitable," citing problems with reliability and maintenance, including a problem with the plane's onboard diagnostics.

Thousands of jobs at stake

But with both planes, there's more than performance at stake.

Lockheed Martin estimates that 40,000 workers employed by about 1,000 companies in 46 states make parts for the F/A-22. Chicago-based Boeing Co. is responsible for making the F/A-22's wings, aft fuselage, integrating its avionics and a majority of its software, as well as the plane's training system, life-support and fire-protection systems.

About 750 companies and 25,000 workers make C-130J components in 49 states.

"If this budget is enacted as proposed, it could lead to a very significant reduction in our workforce and the closure of some of our facilities," said Lockheed Martin spokesman Sam Grizzle, who noted that the budget proposal is just the beginning of the process.

GRAPHIC: GRAPHIC: Bush proposes scaling back two Air Force planes
President Bush has proposed dramatically reducing production of the F/A-22 Raptors and canceling the C-130J transport altogether.

F/A-22 SPECIFICATIONS
Length: 62 feet, 1 inch
Wingspan: 44 feet, 6 inches
Height: 16 feet, 5 inches
Primary function: Fighter, air-dominance
Cost per plane: $133 million
Speed: Mach 1.8
Armament: Two AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles; six AIM-120C medium-range air-to-air missiles; one 20 mm Gatling gun; two 1,000-pound Joint Direct Attack Munitions
Crew: 1

PRODUCTION CUTBACKS
Increases in costs to develop the F/A-22 have forced the Air Force to reduce its planned procurement over time.
1986: 750
1991: 648
1993: 442
1995: 438
1997: 339
1999: 333
2001: 295
2002: 276
2003: 277
2006: 179 (proposed)

C-130J HERCULES SPECIFICATIONS
Height: 38 feet, 10 inches
Wingspan: 132 feet, 7 inches
Length: 97 feet, 9 inches
Primary function: Transport of troops, materiel
Speed: Mach 0.59
Range: 2,071 miles
Crew: 3
Sources: U.S. General Accounting Office, globalsecurity.org, Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company; Congressional Research Service; U.S. Air Force
Chicago Tribune
- See microfilm for complete graphic.
GRAPHIC


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