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Wednesday, Nov. 10, 2004 08:22 am

common sense 11-11-04

art1547

The U.S. Air Force is in rapture over its new baby, the F/A-22 Raptor. Taxpayers, however, can be forgiven for being less than enraptured by the recent birth of this fighter jet. It's the most expensive warplane in history, it's not needed, and there are serious doubts about whether it'll even work.

Conceived 23 years ago to replace the trusty F-15, the Raptor was designed to do battle with a new jet the Soviets were developing. The Soviet jet never got off the ground, the Soviet Union collapsed, and the enemies we battle today are different, with entirely different weaponry. Indeed, no one threatening the U.S. today has an air force that can battle even the old reliable F-15.

Despite the changed world, however, Lockheed Martin, the maker of the Raptor, just kept pushing ahead, using campaign contributions and lobbying clout to keep Congress behind this voracious boondoggle. Lockheed brags that the F/A-22 is the most technologically advanced plane ever built, but what it does best is eat money. Each Raptor costs us $258 million -- and the Air Force is buying 277 of them! That's nearly $72 billion, almost four times the price tag originally submitted by Lockheed. Is the company accountable for such a gross cost overrun? No, no, Nanette -- Lockheed got a sweetheart deal called a "cost plus" contract, which bills all overruns to you and me, not to the corporation.

What do we get for our billions? A flawed product. In March, the Congressional Budget Office reported that the Raptor "was not meeting its requirements for a reliable aircraft."

By the way, the day before Lockheed delivered its first Raptor, it announced a 41 percent jump in its profits -- courtesy of you and me.

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