The world’s most advanced fighter jet was canceled over cost. New threats have Congress asking if that was a mistake.
The Pentagon collected its final F-22 Raptor from Lockheed Martin Corp. four years ago. Amid the Cold War’s end and shrinking defense budgets, the most advanced fighter jet ever built was deemed both unnecessary and unaffordable.
Now, Congress has ignited a flicker of hope for fans of the pricey airplane. A House subcommittee asked the U.S. Air Force to investigate what it would cost to put the tactical fighter back into production. By many accounts, no other fighter can match the F-22’s range of capabilities—many of which remain classified—for speed, agility, stealth, and battlefield sensor power. With 183 in service, a reboot could mean, theoretically, the delivery of 194 additional planes that were planned before the program was canceled. But at roughly $67 billion, the F-22 was ferociously expensive even by military contracting standards. The per-hour cost to fly it is higher than that of most of the Pentagon’s air fleet, including the newer, equally pricey F-35 Lightning II.
Measured against these near-insurmountable fiscal realities is newly aggressive behavior and military upgrades by China and Russia. This year, Russia deployed its most advanced striker, the Sukhoi Su-35, for combat operations in Syria and is working to sell versions to China, Pakistan, Indonesia, Vietnam, Venezuela, and Brazil. And China has begun marketing its advanced FC-31 tactical fighter, which analysts believe is based largely on data stolen in an April 2009 hack of Lockheed Martin systems related to the F-35 program.
In an August report, the aerospace consulting firm Teal Group called the 2009 decision to end the F-22 “an unexpected way of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.” The fighter is revered among some as the guarantor of American air supremacy for decades to come, if only there were enough. It's dismissed by others as a gold-plated hammer in search of a nail, namely a mission beyond projecting air dominance.
The F-22 finally saw combat in September 2014, nine years after its entry into service, against Islamic State forces in Syria. And contractors long ago secured major tooling needed to restart the line, just in case. Nevertheless, any effort to revive it faces enormous obstacles, said Richard Aboulafia, a defense analyst with Teal Group. He’s described the F-22 as a brilliant fighter without a mission, while the F-35 has a clear mission but troubles as an aircraft. “It’s not impossibly far-fetched,” he said of the F-22’s resurrection. “It’s just that there are very big hurdles.” (end of excerpt)
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