Technical Problems Hinder Air Force F/A-22 Program

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The Comanche helicopter program, which was shut down by the Army recently, is not the only military aviation program under scrutiny -- the Air Force's latest fighter jet, the F/A-22 Raptor, is also being given a hard look. The $71 billion program is behind schedule, and an Air Force official recently cited software malfunctions and reliability problems as areas of concern, as well as a shortage of pilots ready to take on the next phase of flight-testing. Air Force officials will decide soon if the Raptor is ready to move on to the combat test phase, which has already been delayed three times. "Some parts are failing that we didn't expect to," said Air Force Maj. Gen. Mark Welsh, director of fighter and bomber programs. Lockheed Martin said it is working on the problems. Lockheed Martin, Boeing and Pratt & Whitney are building the jets, which cost about $250 million each. The Raptor will be the world's first stealth air-to-air fighter, and the first production aircraft with the ability to "supercruise" --flying at supersonic speeds without the use of afterburners. It is slated to become operational in late 2005, replacing the U.S. Air Force's aging fleet of F-15 Eagle fighters. Critics of the program say the Raptor was designed for a Cold-War mission that no longer exists, and the Joint Strike Fighter now in development will deliver better performance at a much lower cost.