- EDWARDS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif.
(UPI) -- While the Air Force gets to the bottom of a potential $690 million
cost overrun for the F/A-22 Raptor program, the cutting-edge fighter has
apparently been meeting expectations in the skies over California.
- Lockheed-Martin announced Friday that the high-priced
warplane that is seen as the United States' frontline fighter of the future
passed a developmental milestone this week when it destroyed a target drone
while both were flying at supersonic speeds.
- "This test marked the first time a Raptor, flying
at supersonic speeds, has been used to detect, track and launch a radar-guided
missile against an aerial target also traveling faster than the speed of
sound," said Lockheed Martin's F/A-22 Avionics Systems Manager Tony
- Air Force Major James Dutton did the honors on Tuesday
when he destroyed an oncoming drone with a medium-range missile while streaking
35,000 feet above the Pacific Ocean at around 900 miles per hour, or 1.5
times the speed of sound.
- Dutton's aircraft, one of seven Raptors undergoing regular
test flights from isolated Edwards Air Force Base in the California high
desert, locked on to the approaching target drone, which was flying 15,000
feet higher and approaching on a head-on course.
- "This 'nose-to-nose, 12 o'clock-high look-up' shot
would be extremely difficult for today's fighters because of the small
size and extremely quick closure rates of the target drone and intercept
aircraft," Keith said in a press release. "The F/A-22's avionics
acquired the target at a distance sufficient to allow the pilot ample time
to make a successful intercept."
- The flight satisfied one of the goals set by the Pentagon
as the F/A-22 is prepared to become the United States' "air dominance"
fighter beginning in 2005. Built with a stealth fuselage design, the Raptor
is designed to detect and lock on to enemy aircraft at great distances,
giving the American pilot the chance to the take the crucial first shot
in an impending dogfight.
- "This test effectively and successfully demonstrated
the 'first-look, first-shoot, first- kill' capability of the F/A-22's advanced
integrated avionics," Keith crowed.
- All is not well within the Raptor program, however, as
the plane's price tag appeared about to grow fatter with revelations by
the Air Force on Thursday that the F/A-22 program faced cost overruns of
some $690 million. At an estimated cost of $99 million each, the plane
is already considered the most expensive ever built, and Congress has put
a $45 billion budget cap on the program.
- The Air Force Friday put together a panel of financial
and technical experts to look into the overruns that Chief of Staff Gen.
John P. Jumper said were apparently the result of manufacturing issues
and not the plane's advanced technology.
- "The F/A-22 is essential to America's security in
the 21st century, and we will get to the bottom of this issue," Jumper
said in a statement, adding that the program remained on schedule.
- Defense Department officials refused to comment on whether
the cost report might lead to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld order
the program scaled back or even canceled, saying they would wait until
the panel reported back later this month.
- "We don't know the circumstances of what happened
yet," Pentagon spokeswoman Victoria Clarke told reporters Friday.
"I think he was pleased that (UnderSecretary of Defense) Pete Aldridge
jumped on top of it right away...and that they're going to get to the bottom
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