Osprey Gets $817M Vote Of Confidence

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The V-22 Osprey tiltrotor program appears to have passed a major hurdle. The Pentagon has ordered 11 more Ospreys, at a cost of $817 million, giving life to a project almost killed after a series of high-profile incidents and fatal crashes in 2000. Since the crashes, which in 2000 killed 23 Marines, aircraft systems have been reworked and a new round of flight tests completed. The 11-plane order is a signal those tests were satisfactory. But while the Pentagon has renewed confidence in one "-22" program, the General Accounting Office is concerned the often-delayed program is moving toward the manufacturing stage too quickly and another, the F-22 Raptor program, is seeing cutbacks. In its review of the Osprey and 25 other major weapons programs, the GAO said the joint Boeing/Bell project "plans to enter full-rate production without ensuring that the manufacturing processes are mature." But Ward Carroll, of Naval Aviation Systems Command, disputed the GAO's concern, saying no decision on full-rate production will be made until after simulated battle condition tests are complete in 2005. "There's much oversight between now and then," he told Reuters. The GAO is also worried about cost overruns looming on the F-22 Raptor. The GAO says Lockheed Martin hasn't been able to efficiently build the first production aircraft and cost estimates keep going up. However, Lockheed spokesman Greg Caires said the report is wrong. "The costs are going down. And we can show that," he told Reuters. The Air Force has scaled back its Raptor purchase from 750 to 276 aircraft.