UPDATE 1-US Air Force gives Pentagon new F-22 purchase plan
(adds comments on tanker contest, paras 5-7)
By Jim Wolf
ORLANDO, Florida Feb 26 (Reuters) - The top U.S. Air Force general said he had put forward a fresh request for top-of-the-line F-22 fighter jets that would postpone an otherwise-imminent start to the shutdown of Lockheed Martin Corp's (LMT.N: Cotización) production line.
Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz said Thursday he had presented the revised acquisition plan to Defense Secretary Robert Gates this week.
He declined to elaborate on their discussion and suggested he did not yet know the fate of the radar-evading fighter, the most advanced in the U.S. arsenal.
"Until he (Gates) renders a decision, I'd prefer to keep the content of that conversation between the (Air Force) secretary and myself, and Secretary Gates," Schwartz told reporters after speaking to an Air Force Association symposium in Orlando, Florida.
Lockheed Martin has said it plans to start phasing out the production line as early as next week unless President Barack Obama decides to buy more than the 183 F-22 Raptors now on order.
Schwartz said the Air Force's No. 1 acquisition priority remained replacing its aging KC-135 tanker fleet. Last year, the Pentagon cancelled a contract with Northrop Grumman Corp (NOC.N: Cotización), teamed with Europe's EADS EAD.PA, for 179 new tankers -- a deal valued at $35 billion -- after U.S. auditors upheld a protest filed by Boeing Co (BA.N: Cotización).
Air Force Secretary Thomas Donley, who joined Schwartz at the press briefing, said the timetable for re-running the tanker competition remained under review by the Defense Department. Continuación...