MAJOR: Aging Sky Junk – U.S Air Force Rejects Proposal to Restart F-22 Raptor production

Is this the end of America's premier air superiority fighter?

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PENTAGON, USAThe United States Air Force published a report, according to which F-22 Raptor has become an aging design and that, sooner than later, it will not be competitive against evolving threats as nations like Russia and China continue to invest in new state-of-the-art technologies.

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A 2017 Pentagon report to Congress detailing production retail costs for Lockheed Martin’s F-22 Raptor show that reviving the powerful stealth air superiority fighter would be prohibitively expensive. Moreover, it would take so long to reconstitute the production line that it would not be until the mid to late 2020s before the first “new” F-22s would have flown. By that time, the F-22 would be obsolete, challenged by new and highly advanced Russian and Chinese capabilities.

“The timeline associated with pursuing F-22 production restart would see new F-22 deliveries starting in the mid-to-late 2020s,” the Air Force report to Congress reads. “While the F-22 continues to remain the premier air superiority solution against the current threat, new production deliveries would start at a point where the F-22′ s capabilities will begin to be challenged by the advancing threats in the 2030 and beyond timeframe. F-22 production re-start would also directly compete against the resources necessary to pursue the Chief of Staff of the Air Force-signed Air Superiority 2030 (AS 2030) Enterprise Capability Collaboration Team (ECCT) Flight Plan, which addresses the critical capabilities required to persist, survive, and be lethal in the rapidly evolving-highly-contested Anti-Access/Area-Denial (A2/AD) threat-environment.”

As it was explained in the report, the aging F-22 design will not be competitive against rapidly evolving adversaries coming from Russia (Su-57) and China (J-20).

“Moving closer to 2030, it is important to acknowledge that threat capabilities have and will continue to evolve at a rapid rate, creating highly contested environments,” the report reads. “The threat drives what capabilities are needed to achieve air superiority in the future, and the rate of threat evolution drives the timelines for the needed capability. Therefore, a conversation regarding restarting the F-22 production line should include an analysis of what capability and capacity is needed in order to achieve air superiority in future highly contested environments. An understanding of the threat along with necessary capability development will help provide an understanding of how restarting F-22 production will not fulfill capacity and capability requirements in the future.”

Thus, the United States Air Force needs to push forward with its Penetrating Counter Air (PCA) program.

“The Air Force should proceed with a formal AoA in 2017 for a PCA capability,” the report reads. “Consistent with an agile acquisition mindset designed to deliver the right capability on the required timeline, this AoA will include options to leverage rapid development and prototyping in order to keep ahead of the threat.”

As already noted, an F-22 production restart, which was formally ended back in 2011, would not only take five years minimum, but it would also be extremely expensive.

“Assuming a buy of 194 aircraft, the total procurement cost is estimated to be between $40 and $42 billion,” the report reads. “When the total procurement cost is combined with the non-recurring restart estimated costs of $9,9 billion, the total restart cost is estimated to be $50,3 billion.”

The powerful US Military-Industrial Complex (MIC) has multiple reasons to look forward to the idea of an F-22 restart, especially Lockheed Martin, the company which designed and produced the aircraft. It would mean billions and billions of extra profit, while USAF would still keep its other prospective projects, which are equally or even more expensive. However, the US is struggling with an abnormally huge debt and simply put, there’s no money left to be wasted. Despite this, MIC (Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Northrop Grumman, etc) never stopped trying their best to squeeze out the last penny out of taxpayers pockets.

The first disappointment for Lockheed Martin happened when USAF slashed the initial production run of 750 F-22 Raptors to less than 200. And indeed, USAF has a fleet of 186 F-22 fighters. That’s all that survived out of 187 production aircraft (195 jets if developmental airframes are included). Of those 186 remaining Raptors, only 123 are “combat-coded” aircraft with another 20 that are classified as backup aircraft inventory machines. The rest are test and training assets.

The time and money needed to develop and build new F-22s would take money away from PCA and other Air Force program that are more relevant to the 2030 fight. Even an export version of the F-22 (should one have been developed) would have used up too many resources.

“The costs to restart production of the F-22 would be extensive even with the involvement of foreign partners,” the report states. “Just as F-22 production would compete for fiscal and contractor resources with other Air Force programs, any F-22 export would compete with FMS (Foreign Military Sales) customers’ resources as well, including countries already committed to F-35 purchases. Most nations are not likely to have the resources available for procurement of an export F-22, which extremely limits the ability of FMS to reduce the costs associated with restarting production.”

Moreover, the Air Force can no longer afford to develop a new aircraft in the same manner it developed the F-22 or F-35. Doing so would concede the technological high ground to Russia and China.

“Developing and delivering air superiority for the highly contested environment in 2030 requires a multi-domain focus on capabilities and capacity,” the report states. “Importantly, the rapidly changing operational environment means the Air Force can no longer afford to develop weapon systems on the linear acquisition and development timelines using traditional approaches. Air superiority capability development requires adaptable, affordable, and agile processes with increasing collaboration between S&T, acquisition, requirements, and industry professionals. Failure to adopt agile acquisition approaches is not an option. The traditional approach guarantees adversary cycles will outpace U.S. development, resulting in ‘late-to-need’ delivery of critical warfighting capabilities and technologically superior adversary forces.”

Also, a plethora of issues has been plaguing the F-22. Starting from pilots of the F-22 experiencing hypoxia-like symptoms, the mind-boggling per-flight-hour cost of $68 thousand and no less insane 40-hour maintenance per flight hour required.

The advent and proliferation of highly advanced SAM systems, like the Russian S-500 didn’t help either.

We should also add the fact that Russia and China have developed similar if not even more advanced platforms and for much less money.

Chinese J-20 costs around $110 million apiece, has much lower per-flight costs, requires less maintenance per flight hour and is likely to have an export version.

Russian Su-57 is even cheaper (standing at just %31 million apiece), while also being more capable, and having much lower per-flight costs and requiring less maintenance per flight hour. Another advantage is that Su-57 will almost certainly be the most available 5th generation platform on the global market. And this is very unlikely to change for decades to come.

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