Next Defense Budget Could Seal Fate of F-22, VH-71
Intense speculation surrounds the Obama Administration’s Fiscal Year 2010 U.S. defense budget submission, which is now being deliberated in secret within the Pentagon. According to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, difficult choices must be made. The spotlight has fallen on two aerospace programs: whether to buy any more F-22 Raptor stealth fighters, and whether to abandon the VH-71 Presidential helicopter program. In recent weeks, Lockheed Martin and employee unions have lobbied to extend the F-22 production beyond the currently-authorized 183 aircraft. Gates has consistently opposed extending the production, but he provided funds to keep the line “warm”’ last year, so that the final decision could be made by the new administration. Now he finds himself part of that new administration. Ominously for the troubled VH-71, Gates said recently that “programs with serious execution issues” were under particular scrutiny. The VH-71 contract is also held by Lockheed Martin, which has been adapting the AgustaWestland AW101 for the role. The Pentagon halted work on the 23 helicopters that were to be built in the U.S. after the program breached the Nunn-McMurdy Act ceiling for cost overruns.