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Acquisition official briefs aircraft budget to Congress

WASHINGTON -- Over the last year, the Air Force has successfully implemented changes to its acquisition process and provided increased capabilities to warfighters, the service's top acquisition official said in written statements to lawmakers April 3.

"We will continue to leverage the technology of this nation to create advantages for our military forces and meet the challenges that we will face in the years ahead," said Dr. Marvin R. Sambur, assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition.

Sambur appeared before the Senate Armed Services Committee subcommittee on airland to discuss Air Force programs included in the upcoming fiscal year's budget request.

"The Air Force is committed to the buy-to-budget strategy for the F/A-22 Raptor," Sambur told the senators. "Under the program's $42 billion budget cap, we estimate that we will be able to procure 276 aircraft."

One of the issues the Raptor team has been working on is to get stability into the program, he said. Once program problems are eliminated and program stability is established, the service expects to see an increase in the number of aircraft that it will be able to procure under the cap.

Several challenges have faced the F/A-22 program, such as fin buffeting, excessive wind noise in the cockpit, problems with the brakes, conducting the flight-science testing and avionics-software stability, Sambur said.

The Raptor team has been able to overcome all but one of these challenges, he said. Only the avionics problem remains.

"This isn't mission impossible, and it doesn't impact flight safety," Sambur explained. "The instability is in the sensor-package software, and there is a plan in place to correct this."

Despite these challenges, the Raptor has made great strides in the past nine months, he said. The Raptors have already accumulated more than 3,000 flying hours and have successfully fired 16 live missiles, including launches in the supercruise configuration.

Sambur also answered concerns about the Air Force's 767 tanker-lease deal.

The Air Force is committed to providing the American public with a good deal to ensure the service is able to fulfill its aerial refueling mission, he said.

Refurbishing aging tankers is not really an option because corrosion is more serious than previously thought, Sambur said.

"Our maintainers are starting to see widespread corrosion in areas where it hasn't been seen before," he explained. "We're already being forced to retire 68 KC-135E Stratotankers with the worst corrosion problems because of safety concerns."

Crews from these retired tankers will augment the KC-135R crews to give them some relief since they will have to pick up more of the refueling mission, he said.

Although corrosion in the younger KC-135Rs is not as prevalent, the concern is that it will show up eventually and that is the reason why the Air Force must start the replacement of its tanker fleet now, Sambur told the senators.

"The Air Force (acquisition community) remains focused on providing the necessary capabilities to the warfighter in order to win America's wars," Sambur said. "And (we're committed to providing) these capabilities through effective and efficient management during the development, production and fielding of systems."

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