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US: Lockheed In Raptor Deal With Pentagon

by Demetri SevastopuloFinancial Times
March 24th, 2004

Lockheed Martin on Tuesday reached an agreement to sell 22 Raptor jet fighters to the US air force after the Pentagon decided to proceed with operational testing of the controversial aircraft next month.

The company is understood to have agreed to a price tag of just less than $110m per aircraft. The air force plans to buy 277 of the fighters.

The aircraft has become a pawn in a battle between the uniformed leadership in the Pentagon and Donald Rumsfeld, the secretary of defence, who wants to shift the military away from Cold War-era weapons systems.

Boeing suffered a blow last month when the Pentagon decided to scrap the $38bn Comanche reconnaissance helicopter programme, the second large weapons cut by the Bush administration.

The White House has also ordered the Pentagon to review the Raptor programme. Last month the General Accounting Office, the oversight arm of Congress, criticised the programme.

"In light of the uncertainty concerning how many aircraft are needed in today's environment, the large investments that remain, and unknown outcomes of planned operational testing, GAO continues to have concerns regarding the DOD's readiness to make a full rate production decision," it said.

The Pentagon is due to decide whether to proceed with Raptor after the next phase of testing, scheduled to conclude late this year.

James Roche, secretary of the air force, last week defended the fighter, saying it was necessary to counter sophisticated surface-to-air missiles.

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