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Is the F-22 Fighter Worth the Price?

The U.S. Air Force claims its newly operational F-22 aircraft is a world class fighter–worth its $330 million price tag. Few, if any, have seriously questioned the F-22 as an expensive, but spectacular, aircraft.

* The original F-22 acquisition program, which officially started in 1986, intended to produce 750 aircraft for over $90 billion at no more than $149 million per aircraft.

* The current F-22 acquisition plan is to buy 183 aircraft for $65 billion at $355 million per aircraft.

* According to Government Accountability Office (GAO), as the force size shrank by 75 percent; the cost to develop the F-22 doubled.

* The original plan scheduled the first aircraft to be operationally deployed in 1996. Nine years later, the first squadron of 12 aircraft was declared “initially operationally capable” in December 2005.

*As of 2006, 63 aircraft have been delivered to the Air Force; 44 more are in production. Between 2008 and 2010 the Air Force wants to buy its final 60 in a “multiyear” procurement. Paying for this would start in 2006; the total cost would be $10.5 billion.

* Last week, the GAO and the Congressional Research Service (CRS) testified to the Senate Armed Services Committee on the nature of this final “incrementally funded” purchase.

* According to the Air Force, the F-22 will achieve “air dominance” against other fighters by virtue of its stealth, super-cruise, advanced avionics, and exceptional maneuverability.

* Effectiveness, survivability, deployability, and sortie generation were tested by the Air Force in the F-22’s “Initial Operational Test and Evaluation” in 2004. The test report is not available, but the Air Force states the F-22 was “overwhelmingly effective” but only “potentially suitable.” The GAO noted: “Officials rated the sortie generation area as unsatisfactory. Problems were noted in aircraft reliability and maintainability, including maintenance of the aircraft’s critical low observable characteristics.”

* The Air Force told the GAO that these problems would be fixed before the F-22 went operational in December 2005. No new GAO report on this subject is yet available.

Note: These performance issues, and others not yet addressed by the GAO, CRS or others, will be addressed at a briefing on the F-22 sponsored by the Straus Military Reform Project of the Center for Defense Information. The briefing will feature:

Pierre Sprey was a leading member of a group, known as the “fighter mafia,” who conceived what are today America’s most successful air combat aircraft, the F-16 and A-10. ¬†Sprey also had a key role in the origins of the F-15 and F-18.

James Stevenson is the author of books on how to, and how not to, design and buy combat aircraft, using the Navy’s F-18 and its failed A-12 as examples. He is also the former editor of the Navy Fighter Weapons School’s “Topgun Journal.”

This briefing will occur at 10:00 a.m. on Friday, April 7, at 1779 Massachusetts Avenue, N.W. in the Shotwell Room.

WINSLOW T. WHEELER is the Director of the Straus Military Reform Project at the Center for Defense Information. He spent 31 years working for US Senators from both parties and the Government Accountability Office. He contributed an essay on the defense budget to CounterPunch’s new book: Dime’s Worth of Difference. Wheeler’s new book, “The Wastrels of Defense: How Congress Sabotages U.S. Security,” is published by the Naval Institute Press.