Into that good night
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The 5th-generation F-22A Raptor fighter program has been the subject of fierce controversy, with advocates and detractors aplenty. On the one hand, the aircraft offers full stealth, revolutionary radar and sensor capabilities, dual air-air and air-ground SEAD (Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses) excellence, the ability to cruise above Mach 1 without afterburners, thrust-vectoring super-maneuverability… and a ridiculously lopsided kill record in exercises against the best American fighters. On the other hand, critics charged that it was too expensive, too limited, and cripples the USAF’s overall force structure.
Meanwhile, close American allies like Australia, Japan and Israel, and other allies like Korea, were pressing the USA to abandon its “no export” policy. Most already fly F-15s, but several were interested in an export version of the F-22 in order to help them deal with advanced – and advancing – Russian-designed aircraft, air-to-air missiles, and surface-to-air missile systems. That would have broadened the F-22 fleet in several important ways, but the US political system would not or could not respond.
This DID FOCUS Article tracks continuing maintenance and fleet upgrade programs, contracts, and timely news. A separate public-access feature offers a profile of the USAF’s most advanced fighter, and covers both sides of the F-22 Raptor program’s controversies.
The F-22 Raptor
From YF-22 to F-22
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The Raptor had a long development history, in order to bring its unique capabilities together in one package. About 2 decades and 7+ quantum electronics leaps later, other countries are just beginning to test fighters with somewhat similar characteristics.
All-aspect stealth, supercruise, and thrust vectoring combine to give the F-22 unmatched abilities to engage or disengage in combat. A radar based on leap-ahead technologies, embedded sensors, and sensor fusion in the cockpit are designed to help the pilot use those capabilities wisely. The F-22’s astounding performance in competitive exercises suggests that they do, and history suggests that their intimidation value will add to their combat effectiveness.
The last Raptor
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Even so, the Raptor has remained a focus for controversy, cost concerns, Congressional cutbacks, and program lessons learned the hard way. Ongoing health issues involving their pilots are equally troubling. The F-22 Raptor has racked up its share of critics, and a number of their points are valid ones. The F-22 has a limited weapon set, limited usefulness in conflicts short of full state warfare, high maintenance and readiness costs that affect training, and a very small pool of operational fighters.
Our background article, “F-22 Raptor: Capabilities and Controversies,” examines each of these factors in greater depth.
F-22 Raptor: Program
F-22A over Alaska
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The F-22 program is led by Lockheed Martin. Boeing Integrated Defense Systems has responsibility for the avionics systems, and a Northrop Grumman-led joint venture with Raytheon produces the APG-77 radar, under contract to Boeing. The F119 thrust-vectoring engines are produced by United Technologies subsidiary Pratt & Whitney. As of 2011, order totals stand at 187. That number will not rise unless the production line is restarted, which means the 2009 and 2010 crashes will leave the USAF with a fleet of 185.
By the end of Lot 6 production (the FY 2007 batch), the Air Force and manufacturer expected to have all the major design changes to the Raptor worked out; there would be no major changes to the aircraft after that, unless the service wanted to produce an F-22B or F-22C model. Production of each F-22 took about 30 months from start to finish, as the various parts are sent to the Lockheed Martin facility in Marietta for final assembly. Within the final production line in Marietta, GA’s 3.5 million square foot main building, the “mate and final assembly” process took about 12 months.
Flyaway Costs & Budgets
When the final aircraft was delivered in May 2012, the F-22A acquisition program was complete. It cost $67.3 billion to develop the aircraft, establish the infrastructure, and buy 187 jets.
Lockheed Martin claims that their nationwide production team achieved Lot to Lot cost reductions greater than 10% for each set from Lot 1 to Lot 4. Larry Lawson, Lockheed Martin executive vice president and F/A-22 program manager, saw that trend slowing but not stopping, as the firm continued to focus on cost reductions and efficiency improvements. A June 23/06 US Air Force article added:
“The current cost for a single copy of an F-22 stands at about $137 million. And that number has dropped by 23 percent since Lot 3 procurement, General Lewis said. “The cost of the airplane is going down,” he said. “And the next 100 aircraft, if I am allowed to buy another 100 aircraft… the average fly-away cost would be $116 million per airplane.” “
Depending on which “dollar-year” those fly-away cost figures represent, actual amounts may vary, since current year dollars include inflation. Final-stage budgets suggest figures of $150-180 million per plane, but a July 2009 USAF response [PDF] gave the F-22A’s current flyaway cost as $142.6 million each. That no longer matters, since production stopped in 2012.
Raptor, Redux: Upgrading the Fleet
F-22A vs. F-15 to -18
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Even though the F-22 is out of production, the program itself will continue to attract spending on maintenance, spares, and upgrades. The F-22A began as a single-step program, with no need for significant future modernization. Reality intervened, and the USAF came up with a $5.4 billion modernization plan in 2004. As of December 2011, the current total estimated cost of F-22A modernization had more than doubled, to $11.7 billion (+117%). Around $6.2 billion remained to be spent: $1.3 billion for Increment 3.2B, $3.6 billion to maintain modernization and support infrastructure, and $1.3 billion to complete RAMMP design-for-maintenance improvements and structural repairs.
Right now the Air Force operates mostly Block-20 aircraft. The Block 10s were used for training at Tyndall AFB. The Block 20s, produced from 2007 on, use “Increment 2″ hardware and software. That lets them launch GPS-guided JDAM bombs at supersonic speeds, and improves performance with the AIM-120C AMRAAM air-air missile. Increment 2 also helped fix some previous operations and maintenance issues.
Under the Common Configuration program, the F-22A Block 10s were retrofitted to Block 20/ Increment 2 status, but retain the original core processor. They could be used operationally as air superiority planes, but present plans call for them to remain as training and demonstration platforms. The USAF intends to retain 36 aircraft in this configuration.
As of 2012, the USAF intends to upgrade 143 aircraft with the full complement of modernized Block 35/ Increment 3 capabilities by FY 2020. The Raptor’s problem is that its Increment 3 set keeps changing, with items being added and subtracted while costs climb, and the schedule lengthens. Here’s the December 2011 timeline:
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Note the changes below…
F-22A with SDB-Is
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Increment 3.1 began development in 2006, and finally reached OpEval in January 2011. It finished testing in November 2011, and fielding is taking place from July 2011 (via USAF waivers) through 2016. Upgrades include new ground-looking synthetic aperture radar (SAR) modes for the AN/APG-77, some electronic attack capability, geo-location of detected electro-magnetic emitters, and initial integration with the GPS-guided GBU-39 Small-Diameter Bomb (SDB-I). That last change expands the F-22’s ground attack arsenal from 1 JDAM per bay to 4 SDB-Is, though a pilot will only be able to release 2 weapons at a time.
Timing Etc.: Testing shows that this upgrade has also improved the F-22’s Mean Time Between Critical Failure rates. Increment 3.1 is being fielded from 2011 – August 2017.
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Increment 3.2 was meant to be a software-focused upgrade, and was initially expected to begin delivering planes in 2010. The effort ran into funding delays, then ran into technical and cost problems. It has now split into a 3.2A and 3.2B phase, and a number of items have vanished from the plan.
Increment 3.2A will focus on Electronic Protection and Combat Identification, including Link-16 track fusion. Development began in November 2011, testing is expected to run from late 2012 – late 2013, and operational testing was expected to finish in early 2014.
Removed: Improved geo-location of detected emitters, Ground Moving Target Indication and Tracking Indicator (GMTI) radar mode to upgrade its ground-looking SAR from Increment 3.1, the MADL datalink, Anti-jam GPS SASSM retrofits, an Automatic Ground-Collision Avoidance System (AGCAS) to improve safety, and improved data recording.
Timing Etc.: Fielding of Increment 3.2A is planned to overlap Increment 3.1, and it will be fielded from FY 2014 – 2018.
Increment 3.2B has been structured as a new major defense acquisition program since December 2011. It will provide compatibility with new AIM-9X Sidewinder short range air-air missiles, and with the AIM-120D medium range air-air missile; the AIM-120D’s range, 2-way datalink, and AESA friendly features appear to be tailor-made for the F-22. Beyond that, 3.2B will finish Increment 3.1’s Electronic Protection Update, add the IFDL datalink, and improve geo-location of detected emitters (albeit to a lesser degree than initially planned).
Removed: All items removed from 3.2A are still gone, except geo-location which is added back to a degree.
The USAF also cut full SDB-I integration, which offered the ability to release all of the plane’s bombs at once against 8 separate targets. That can be very useful in some tactical situations, allowing just one screaming pass over defended and dispersed targets: airfields, air defense complexes, etc. On the other hand, FY 2013 USAF budget summary states that the GBU-53 tri-mode (MMW radar/IIR/laser) guidance SDB-II will also be integrated with the F-22A, and this has remained consistent. It’s possible that initial SDB-II integration will be done by the end of 3.2B. If added, it would give the Raptor the ability to hit moving targets, and to drop bombs using “buddy lasing” designation from other platforms.
Timing Etc.: Increment 3.2B estimated at $1.538 billion, of which $1.2 billion is R&D, and only $338.6 million is procurement. That isn’t unusual for a software-heavy upgrade.
Milestone B approval and system development was planned for Q1 2013, with fielding to take place between 2017 – 2020. Development began in February 2013, with a design review scheduled for July 2015 and a Milestone C decision in December 2015. Testing will begin in August 2016, with a “full rate production” (deployment) decision in October 2017, an expected initial operational capability in December 2018, and fielding running to 2020. The problem is that delays in completing the 3.1 and 3.2A increments are likely to push 3.2B back as well.
What Comes Next? There may be a hardware focus at the end of Increment 3.2, if a USAF effort to examine the full replacement of the F-22’s core electronics with a modern, open architecture software and hardware framework (vid. the F-35) bears fruit. If so, that would probably become Increment 3.2C, or an Increment 3.3 upgrade program. Previous wish lists have included items like side-mounted AESA radar arrays to improve radar field of view and simultaneous ground scans, multispectral/infrared search and track (IRST) systems for aerial and/or ground targets, and the JHMCS helmet-mounted sight. Improved jamming capabilities are another item that will always be in demand. At present, there are no plans to add powered weapons like HARM/AARGM anti-radar missiles, and fitting them into the weapon bays could be a challenge.
Milestones for F-22 modernization, and forecast dates for future milestones, are reproduced below:
Long-Term Maintenance Programs
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Operations and Maintenance is about 2/3s of the cost of any fighter over its lifetime, and the F-22 has been criticized for its performance. It promised better O&M costs than the F-15, but 2008 costs per flying hour were $19,750 for the F-22, vs. $17,465 for the F-15. All-in cost estimates of $49,808 vs. $30,818 are even more unfavorable. Those costs tend to rise as aircraft get older, and the F-22’s extensive use of uncommon materials like titanium and composites adds some new variables to the aging curve. An independent 2007 estimate by the Air Force Cost Analysis Agency projected a $49,549 all-in cost per F-22 flight hour at maturity in 2015 – more than double the $23,282 estimate made in 2005. It’s true that cuts in the number bought have raised fixed costs per plane, and also contributed to a shrinking industrial base that makes parts more expensive. The biggest impact, however, has come from the work required to maintain the F-22’s stealth coatings after flights and maintenance work.
The US military has a couple of programs aimed at tackling these challenges.
RAMMP. The F-22’s Reliability and Maintainability Maturation Program began in 2005, and will run as long as the aircraft serves. It aims to drive continuous improvement in F-22 reliability and maintainability, as measured by metrics like Availability, Maintenance Man Hours per Flight Hour [MMH], Mean Time Between Maintenance (MTBM), and cost-saving Return on Investment. RAMMP used to include production cut-in opportunities, but that stopped when production did. It still encompasses development work and retrofits that are seen as affordable up front and technically viable, with a good return on investment. According to program officials, as of January 2014 there were over 100 RAMMP projects of varying scope and cost under way, and over 200 projects had been completed.
In April 2011, the Pentagon changed the way they measured F-22 readiness to “material availability,” the percentage of the fleet available to perform assigned missions at any given time. The GAO says that this was just 55.5% in 2011, and the current goal for RAAMP is an availability rate of 70.6% by 2015. In May 2014, the US GAO flatly said that RAMMP wouldn’t achieve this.
The program had planned to spend about $258 million between 2005 and 2011, but a May 2012 GAO report pegged actual investments through 2011 at about $528 million. RAMMP is expected to need almost $1.3 billion through 2023, and is expected to run until the F-22 leaves service around 2033.
SRP I/II. The Structures Retrofit Plan/Program (SRP) is a 2-part program designed to correct warning signs discovered during the F-22’s 2005 Full Scale Fatigue Testing (FSFT), and make sure the planes reach their 8,000 flight hour service lives. All USAF planes have a routine structural integrity process designed to proactively detect and repair damage, and SRP is the Raptor’s. Phase I was designed to correct structural deficiencies with that were less than 2,000 flight hours from their limits, while SRP II is tackling less urgent deficiencies with life shortfalls between 2,000 – 8,000 flight hours. The SRP II program was scheduled to run from 2006 – 2015, but that has been stretched to 2019.
The F-22A Raptor is currently assigned to 7 bases across the US, 3-4 of which have operational aircraft:
Langley AFB, VA: Operational F-22As of the 1st Fighter Wing’s 27th Fighter Squadron (FS) are assigned here. They have been certified to Full Operational Capability, and the Virginia Air National Guard’s (ANG’s) 192nd Fighter Wing is an associate squadron.
Elemendorf AFB, AK: 3rd Fighter Wing’s 90th FS & 525th FS. Elmendorf AFB should have its full complement of 40 aircraft by December 2009. The US Pacific Air Force’s 477th Fighter Group (302nd FS, 477th Maintenance Sqn and 477th Aircraft Maintenance Sqn) will associate with the 3rd FW, becoming the first Air Force Reserve unit to maintain and fly the F-22A; its units have historic connections to the Tuskegee Airmen, the USAF’s highly-decorated black aviators of WW2. Source.
Hickam AFB, Hawaii: Future base for 18-24 F-22A Block 30s; the Hawaii ANG’s 199th FS will contribute most of the personnel, and the 531st FS will be a USAF active force associate squadron to them. F-22As began arriving in July 2010, and the squadron flew its last F-15 mission in August 2010.
Holloman AFB, NM: Was to become base #6 as its tenants transitioned from F-117 stealth aircraft to the F-22A. The base was converted to an F-16 training center instead, and the 8th Fighter Squadron was inactivated in May 2011. The 7th Fighter Squadron’s transfer was delayed for years because of a USAF freeze on structure changes, but te last set of F-22s left in April 2014.
Tyndall AFB, FL: Pilot and maintenance teams training. Tyndall AFB has become the largest F-22 base, with over 50 planes. The Air Force Reserve and Air National Guard also have individuals here as instructors, and Tyndall boosted its numbers with F-22s from Holloman AFB.
Temporary deployments to Andersen AFB on Guam and Kadena AFB in Japan can be expected on a regular basis. F-22s can also be found at:
Edwards AFB, CA: Flight testing, of course.
Nellis AFB, NV: Tactics development, which becomes a new issue with full stealth aircraft.
F-22 Raptor: Key Events
1st combat missions; GAO on F-22 maintenance program issues; F-22 training stats; Holloman AFB squadrons finally move; USAF reprisals against whistleblower pilot?; F-22s needed as F-35 air cover?
Sept 23/14: First combat strikes. The Pentagon touts how F-22s were used in their first combat role during strikes against ISIS in Syria. The aircraft dropped GPS-guided munitions and destroyed a building believed to be used for command and control purposes. Which makes the insurgents look like a regular military, but in some way that is how they have been fighting in past months. Given the relatively limited damage shown in the before/after pictures [PDF] released by DoD, as well as a video of one of the strikes, the bombs used were likely 250 pound GBU-39 SDB-Is optimized for penetration, rather than heavier 1,000 pound JDAMs.
The mission looks a bit out of character and underwhelming for what is primarily an air-to-air fighter, but the F-22 does have air-to-ground capabilities. Penetration against Syrian air defenses might have been an issue making the case for stealth, but then F-15s, F-16s and even UAVs were used in the same wave against northern Syria.
July 30/14: Reprisals? The Inspector General report covering allegations of reprisals against Capt. Wilson (q.v. April 20/14) is due – well, “soon” may be the wrong term to use:
“U.S. Sen. Mark Warner met Tuesday with officials of the Department of Defense inspector general and said he is pleased they’re promising to deliver their findings by Aug. 30 if not sooner…. Warner said he’s angered that the investigation has taken years instead of months, calling it a message to service members that those who sound an alarm will be punished…. “We’re now over 800 days since this process started. We’ve gone through three secretaries of defense. It’s time to get an answer.”
Acknowledgement of wrongdoing could carry a price tag for the US military. When the USAF removed him from his full time Air Combat Command job, they also removed most of his $100,000 per year salary. Sources: Virginia-Pilot, “Pentagon: F-22 whistleblower inquiry to finish in Aug.”
July 30/14: F-22 training stats. The USAF describes greater use of simulators and classroom instruction, as it moves to drastically cut the number of flight hours to qualify in an F-22. they’re hoping to pump up the volume:
“F-22 B-Course graduations increased from approximately 10 pilots per year on average to 23 pilots during fiscal year 2014. The program expects to graduate 30 pilots in fiscal year 2015. While increased numbers fall short of the 42 B-Course F-22 pilots the Air Staff said are required to meet the overall CAF fighter need, the trend is heading in the right direction… The F-22 basic qualification syllabus is one area that has seen sizable cuts and changes, primarily with the number of sorties B-Course students need to perform to graduate from the F-22 training course. Prior to the adjustments, a B-Course student required 43 sorties to graduate. The number is now down to 38 sorties. Track 1 course pilots, more experienced pilots retraining from other aircraft, also saw a reduction in the number of sorties needed to graduate, from 19 to 12 sorties.”
Meanwhile, the T-38s are taking up the aggressor role from F-22s. In 2013, T-38s flew 831 adversary air sorties in 9 months, and that number is expected to double in 2014.
At the same time, the USAF is touting improvements in the F-22’s availability rate, despite a negative recent report from the GAO (q.v. May 15/14). The 325th FW reportedly hit an 80.7% Mission Capable rate in March 2014, vs. an average rate from January – March 2013 of 49%. Software enhancements and beter availability of spare parts are cited as drivers, and the latter is helped by the 325th’s status as a training unit. Sources: USAF, “Tyndall AFB takes F-22 pilot training to next level”.
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May 15/14: GAO Report. The US GAO looks at ongoing costs and estimates for the F-22’s SRP I/II and RAMMP programs, which aim to address the aircraft’s reliability and structural problems. The most recent combined cost estimate for these efforts from 2003 was approximately $11.3 billion, of which nearly 60% has already been invested. Of this total, $9.36 billion involves modernization, vs. $1.93 billion for maintenance efforts like RAMMP and SRP. Overall, GAO highlights 3 issues related to these efforts.
The 1st is the difficulty of tracking RAMMP, as the FY 2013 defense budget bill requested. The Pentagon says that reliability and maintainability programs can’t be baselined like regular new-item programs, because of unexpected life cycle issues that arise as the weapon system ages. GAO says that the current reporting system makes it impossible to consistently track cost and schedule progress. Both can be right.
The 2nd issue involves depot-level maintenance and turnaround time, whose lateness will now delay the fielding of key modernization increments like 3.1 (now August 2017, not FY 2016), 3.2A (now FY 2018, not FY 2016), and remediation programs like SRP (now 2019, not late 2017). The GAO cites management turnover at the contractor-run depot in Palmdale, CA, plus extra time needed for corrosion fixes, as the causes. One wonders whether the coming move to a government-operated facility in Ogden, UT will help, though they do have lower labor rates there, and have reportedly charged fewer labor-hours when performing modifications. A residual capability will be maintained at Palmdale, CA into 2015.
The 3rd issue cited is that the USAF has never been able to meet the F-22’s aircraft availability targets, and doesn’t expect to hit the required 70.6% figure by fiscal year 2018. Even that target figure isn’t all that high for a fighter, but the F-22 is handicapped by the fact that maintaining the F-22’s stealth with tapes, coatings, etc. accounts for almost 50% of off-line maintenance time. As such, “minor repairs or modifications that would take a few hours on a non-stealth aircraft can require days of maintenance on an F-22.” Sources: US GAO-14-425, “Cost and Schedule Transparency Is Improved, Further Visibility into Reliability Efforts Is Needed” | Defense-Aerospace, “F-22 Availability Lags Despite $11Bn Investment”.
April 20/14: Reprisals? F-22 pilot Capt. Joshua Wilson of the VA Air National Guard’s 149th Fighter Squadron was one of the pilots who talked publicly about the F-22’s oxygen problems on the CBS’ “60 Minutes” episode that aired in May 2012. In April 2012, the USAF stopped his planned promotion to major over his reluctance to fly the jets before various fixes were made; they’ve also forced him out of his full-time desk job with the Air Combat Command at Langley, and reportedly threatened to take away his wings.
“If you guys can prove I’m a bad officer, kick me out of the military,” he said. “If not, let me get back to my job. Let me get back to what I love to do, what I’m good at and what I trained my entire life to do.”
Wilson alerted the Department of Defense’s office of inspector general, which is investigating, and his own lawyers are calling the USAF’s actions a reprisal. U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger [R-IL-16] concurs, and Sen. Mark Warner [D-VA] has been critical.
It’s worth noting that Maj. Jeremy Gordon was also part of that 60 Minutes interview, and remains in the squadron, flying a T-38 after voluntarily stepping away from the Raptor in mid-2012. At the same time, the USAF hasn’t exactly explained themselves re: Wilson. Sources: Virginia-Pilot, “Pilot’s career stalls after criticizing oxygen system”.
April 8/14: Basing. The last 4 F-22A Raptors from Holloman AFB, NM’s 7th Fighter Squadron arrive at their new home in Tyndall AFB, FL (q.v. July 29/10, May 13/11, Oct 12/12, Jan 6/14), and become part of a new squadron. Col. David E. Graff, who commands the 325th Fighter Wing at Tyndall AFB, FL declares that the recently-reactivated 95th Fighter Squadron has reached Initial Operational Capability. Additional personnel and equipment still need to arrive from the F-22s’ former base at Holloman AFB, NM, and full operational capability is expected “this summer.”
The F-22s will also be flown by the 301st Fighter Squadron Air Force Reserve Command Associate unit. Including 95th FS, 43rd FS, and the F-22 training squadron, more than 50 Raptors are now based at Tyndall. Sources: Lockheed Martin Code One Magazine, “Last Raptor Leaves Holloman” and “Raptor Squadron Reaches IOC”.
F-22As over Fla.
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Feb 3/14: F-22s & F-35s. USAF Air Combat Command’s veteran leader, Gen. Michael Hostage, offers an interview answer that ignites much more controversy than he expected. After firmly stating that he intends to defend every single one of the 1,763 F-35As in the program, and adding that “adversaries are building fleets that will overmatch our legacy fleet, no matter what I do, by the middle of the next decade”, he’s asked about expensive upgrades to the F-22:
“A. The F-22, when it was produced, was flying with computers that were already so out of date you would not find them in a kid’s game console in somebody’s home gaming system. But I was forced to use that because that was the [specification] that was written by the acquisition process when I was going to buy the F-22.
Then, I have to go through the [service life extension plan] and [cost and assessment program evaluation] efforts with airplanes to try to get modern technology into my legacy fleet. That is why the current upgrade programs to the F-22 I put easily as critical as my F-35 fleet. If I do not keep that F-22 fleet viable, the F-35 fleet frankly will be irrelevant. The F-35 is not built as an air superiority platform. It needs the F-22. Because I got such a pitifully tiny fleet, I’ve got to ensure I will have every single one of those F-22s as capable as it possibly can be.”
Gen. Hostage’s views are more complex than this, and his ideas concerning “the combat cloud” with F-35s as its backbone are especially interesting. His position is also operationally prudent. The problem is that Lockheed Martin and the USAF have been selling the F-35 as an air superiority aircraft. Meanwhile, outside commenters had looked at design tradeoffs and test data, while pointing to fighter design advances from Russia, China, et. al. and expressing skepticism re: air superiority claims. Now, the head of USAF ACC has just confirmed their skepticism. Can a very political military and industrial complex handle that? Sources: Defense News, “Interview: Gen. Michael Hostage, Commander, US Air Force’s Air Combat Command” | The Aviationist, “”If we don’t keep F-22 Raptor viable, the F-35 fleet will be irrelevant” Air Combat Command says” | Canada’s National Post, “Canada’s multi-billion dollar F-35s ‘irrelevant’ without U.S.-only F-22 as support, American general says” || Breaking Defense (2013), “Why Air Force Needs Lots Of F-35s: Gen. Hostage On The ‘Combat Cloud'”.
F-22s and F-35s kerfuffle
Jan 6/14: Basing. The first 5 Raptors arrive at Tyndall AFB, FL from Holloman AFB, NM. The 19 remaining fighters of the renamed 95th Fighter Squadron will arrive by the end of April 2014, making Tyndall the largest F-22 base with more than 50 Raptors. It will be the first time Tyndall has ever hosted a combat aviation unit.
The transfer has taken more than 3 years, thanks in part to an ongoing Congressional freeze on USAF structure changes (q.v. July 29/10, May 13/11, Oct 12/12). The F-22 move also frees up space for the transfer of 2 F-16 squadrons from Luke AFB, AZ in Arizona to Holloman AFB, which is becoming the USAF’s F-16 training center. Sources: Panama City News Herald, “‘Awesome’ new mission awaits Raptor pilots at Tyndall”.
Last F119 engine; No HMD becoming a problem?
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Nov 7/13: RaIL. Technicians at the Raptor Avionics Integration Laboratory (RaIL) at Hill AFB, UT complete the conversion from a contractor-run to an Air Force-run operation. The RaIL has been performing the critical avionics sustainment function for the F-22 Raptor at Hill since April 10/14. It’s a public/private partnership with Lockheed Martin, with 10 civil service employees part of an intensive 2 year training program. Sources: Lockheed Martin Code One Magazine, “RaIL Up And Running”.
Oct 10/13: Innovation. The usual method of deploying fighters is structured around large footprint packages to a select few operating bases. That wasn’t good enough for Lt. Col. Kevin Sutterfield, a reserve F-22 pilot assigned to the 477th Fighter Group at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska. He circulated a white paper around the concept of mobile stealth fighter groups that could refuel, rearm, and redeploy from a number of smaller bases, greatly complicating enemy planning.
Once that paper had senior attention, Sutterfield worked with other active duty and reserve experts to flesh out the details. The new approach uses a flexible combination of 4 F-22As, 1 C-17A, a tailored package of spares and equipment, and trained personnel on board as the “cell” quickly disperses to new bases to refuel, rearm, and fly operations. To test these theories, experienced pilots and maintainers from the 3rd Wing and 477th developed exercises in 2009, 2010, 2012, and in August 2013. The USAF considers the new approach to be ready for operational use. Sources: USAF, “Innovation advances F-22 as strategic force in Pacific”.
Aug 8/13: Crash report. USAF Air Combat Command’s Accident Investigation Board report says that the November 2012 crash at Tyndall AFB, FL (q.v. Nov 15/12) was caused by a chafed electrical wire. The positive generator-feeder wire arced out, burning through a nearby hydraulic line and forcing the generator offline. When the F-22A pilot attempted to restart the generator, the spark ignited misted hydraulic fluid. That fire took out key electrical and hydraulic systems, and c’est fini for Raptor 00-4013.
Fortunately, the pilot ejected safely, but the jet became a smoking hole in the ground. Total damage is estimated at $149.6 million. Sources: USAF, “F-22 accident report released”.
May 29/13: Infrastructure. The USAF is consolidating F-22A maintenance at Ogden Air Logistics Complex, Hill AFB, UT. A a 31-month incremental transition plan will shift away from the current arrangement, which is split between Ogden and Lockheed Martin’s Palmdale, CA facility. The USAF’s business case says they’ll save $16 million per year. As with all business cases, the proof is in the results. Sources: USAF, “Air Force to consolidate F-22 depot maintenance at Hill”.
April 8/13: Squadron stand-down. The USAF is standing down 17 combat-coded squadrons in response to budget cuts that reduced the flying hours budget by $591 million for the remainder of FY 2013. The grounding includes F-22As from the 1st Fighter Wing’s 94th Fighter Squadron at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, VA, who are returning from a high-profile exercise in South Korea. Gannett’s Military Times.
April 4/13: Some restrictions lifted. The F-22 Raptor fleet’s prohibition on venturing more than 30 minutes flight from suitable airfields is removed, after modifications to aircrew life-support equipment were completed across the fleet. F-22 crews have also resumed their aerospace control alert mission in Alaska after the Automatic Back-up Oxygen System (ABOS) was installed in the F-22s at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson.
Altitude restrictions still remain for some of the fleet. Altitude restrictions for training flights remain for non-ABOS aircraft; however, those restrictions will be removed as each aircraft is modified. Officials expect combat fleet completion by July 2014. USAF | KHON 2 Hawaii.
April 1/13: Korea. Pentagon Press Secretary George Little underscores the fact that 2 F-22As have deployed from Kadena AB, Japan to Osan AB in South Korea, arriving in the middle of the 2-month-long Foal Eagle exercise. Little says the move was pre-planned, and it happens to coincide with a sharp escalation in tensions with North Korea. Then again, escalations and acts of war have happened to every new South Korean administration, so it was predictable in advance. US DoD | CNN.
March 28/13: GAO Report. The US GAO tables its “Assessments of Selected Weapon Programs“. Which is actually a review for 2012, plus time to compile and publish. The F-22 itself is no longer a major program, but its Increment 3.2B upgrade has been approved as an MDAP all its own. It’s estimated at $1.538 billion, of which $1.2 billion is R&D, and only $338.6 million is procurement. That isn’t unusual for a software-heavy upgrade.
Development will begin in February 2013, with a design review scheduled for July 2015 and a Milestone C decision in December 2015. Testing will begin in August 2016, with a “full rate production” (deployment) decision in October 2017, and an expected initial operational capability in December 2018.
GAO is worried that the AIM-9X Block II air-to-air missile won’t be ready in time to support that 2016 testing, or 2018 fielding. It would have to be pretty late, though, because its IOC is scheduled for 2014. Other GAO concerns include the possibility of testing delays from more “pilot hypoxia” fleet groundings. F-22 flight software updates could create a concurrency risk for the developers, and if the Ogden Air Logistics Center’s software development lab isn’t accredited, it will add 75 more test flights and extend testing. Finally, the GAO cites “a lack of test resources to verify electronic protection and geo-location capabilities…” as a notable risk.
Feb 9/13: NASA on Hypoxia. The Hampton Roads Daily Press used Freedom of Information requests to review a redacted copy of NASA’s 120 page August 2012 report concerning F-22 “hypoxia” issues (q.v. also Sept 13/12 entry). The 14-member NASA team cites lack of information sharing at the outset, as different bases tried different approaches. Langley AFB, VA, for instance, found that hyperbaric treatments were helpful, but pilots in Alaska didn’t receive them. They also use the ominous term “normalization of deviance” to describe initial lack of reaction to pilot health problems.
NASA is also recommending reducing oxygen levels at lower altitudes as a way of avoiding “absorption atelectasis,” in which too much oxygen at low altitudes wash away necessary nitrogen within the lungs and cause lung tissue to collapse. The USAF says that many Navy pilots have flown without issue on 100% oxygen instead of 95%, and wants more data before making that change. NASA also wanted a central F-22 Medical Consult Service in place, as a resource for flight surgeons who treat pilots. The USAF says that Hyperbaric Division of the Aeromedical Consultation Service at the USAF School of Aerospace Medicine already serves in that role.
Feb 6/13: Pentagon IG Slams USAF. The Pentagon’s Inspector-General delivers a scathing assessment of the USAF Accident Investigation Board report that faulted the late Capt. Haney for the Nov 16/10 crash in Alaska. The crash led directly to fleet cockpit retrofits and changes in the flight vests, after the AIB’s own report described the absurdly difficult process for reactivating the pilot’s cut-off oxygen (q.v. Dec 14/11, March 20/12 entries). The IG’s report was sharply critical, and its main criticisms can be excerpted as follows:
“The AIB report cites three causal factors (channelized attention, breakdown of visual scan, and unrecognized spatial disorientation) as the cause of the F-22 mishap. However, these three factors are separate, distinct, and conflicting…. The AIB report’s determination that the mishap pilot’s mask was in the full up position throughout the mishap sequence was not adequately supported by the Summary of Facts or by the analysis cited in the TABs…. The AIB report’s Non-Contributory portion of the Human Factors section inadequately analyzes the human factors listed, such as hypoxia, gravity-induced loss of consciousness, and sudden incapacitation and does not contain any references and/or supporting documentation…. lacked detailed analysis of several areas, such as the Emergency Oxygen System activation as well as the physiological reactions to lack of oxygen…. Of the 109 references in the AIB report’s Summary of Facts, 60 of those references were either incorrect or did not direct the reader of the AIB report to the information cited in the paragraph.”
Reading the report in detail, the IG says there’s a lot of evidence that the pilot was “not actively flying the aircraft” for critical periods, citing inter alia 39 seconds of either unintentional or no flight control inputs just prior to the 7.4 g “recovery” maneuver and crash. Basically, the IG believes the pilot was probably unconscious.
The report is an interesting collision. Its conclusions vindicate the honor of the deceased pilot, which the Accident Board report had damaged, at the price of charging the USAF with incompetence (the alternative being dishonesty). The USAF disagrees, stating that the AIB report could have been clearer, but their conclusion was “supported by clear and convincing evidence and he exhausted all available investigative leads.” The IG responds that writing clarity was not the issue. They continue to lack confidence in both the quality of the evidence, and the thoroughness of the investigation, which means the AIB should be re-convened. The USAF is resisting that, and the IG wants more than a vague promise to “address deficiencies”. The tug-of-war continues. Pentagon Inspector General Report | ABC News | Flight International.
Inspector General slams USAF AIB’s 2010 accident report
Feb 6/13: Doc. The USAF does a feature on Lt. Col. (Dr.) Jay Flottmann, a former flight surgeon who is now a fully qualified F-22A pilot, and 325th Fighter Wing chief of flight safety at Tyndall AFB, FL. That role began in November 2010, so he has been very involved in many of the investigations and revised procedures. Including installation of a pulseoximeter in the F-22’s helmet.
Another part of his legacy is that Air Force Instruction 11-405 now allows qualified flight surgeons to apply to pilot training through normal channels.
Feb 5/13: RAF Eurofighters. British Eurofighter Typhoon fighters are training with F-22s at Langley AFB for the first time. German Typhoons reportedly found that they could deal with the Raptor in close during a recent exercise (q.v. July 30/12 entry), but exercises like these are more about teaching other air forces how to work together with the F-22’s different capabilities and protocols. Hampton Roads Daily Press.
Jan 31/13: Missile gap? Increment 3.2B upgrades are supposed to deliver AIM-9X Sidewinder missile capabilities to the F-22A fleet, but pilots are concerned that the short-range air combat missile will fall short of required performance without a Helmet Mounted Display, and leave the F-22A at a disadvantage in close-in fights. One Raptor pilot told Flight International that:
“We’ve been screaming for years that the F-22 needs to have the capability fielded, and fast… Once the jets transitions from BVR [beyond visual range] to WVR [within visual range] with only AIM-9M-9s it is hugely vulnerable…”
The pilots like the AIM-9X’s added range, which extends to beyond visual range levels when launched at supercruise speed, and its ability to lock-on after launch. The problem is that without an HMD like the JHMCS I/II on other USAF fighters, or the Thales (Gentex) Scorpion that equips A-10s and some Air National Guard F-16s, the pilots can’t take full advantage of the missile’s full targeting cone. It doesn’t help that AIM-9X Block II’s one cited deficiency is helmetless high off-boresight (HHOBS) performance, but a fix can be expected by 2017.
The Raptor may be able to out-turn anyone, but an opponent with 30 degrees more sighting cone to work with doesn’t have to maneuver as hard. As experiences with the Eurofighter show (q.v. June 30/12 entry), some 4+ generation aircraft do approach the F-22’s capabilities in close. Russian thrust-vectoring designs like the MiG-35, SU-30SM, and SU-35 may also fall into this category, and top-end SRAAMs can even create openings against the F-22’s infrared masking countermeasures.
Jan 17/13: Engine. Pratt & Whitney delivers the last of 507 production F119-PW-100 engines for the F-22 fleet. They’ll continue to produce parts and spares, but the plant removed 100 people in December 2012: 80 layoffs, and 20 early retirement buy-outs.
The last F-22A was delivered on May 2/12. WTNH, CT.
Last F119 engine
The ‘Hypoxia’ issue; Why stealth maintenance is so expensive; F-22’s serious accident rate; 186 aircraft left; German Eurofighters claim good WVR record against F-22s.
F-22A w. fuel tanks
(click to view full)
Dec 7/12: Fender bender. An F-22A stationed at Joint Base Preal Harbor – Hickam sustains $1.8 million in damage in a landing incident. The fighters scrapes both horizontal stabilizers on the runway, about 90 minutes after conducting a Missing Man Flyover during the 71st Anniversary Pearl Harbor Day Commemoration ceremony. The Aviationist | UK’s Daily Mail.
Nov 27/12: Stealth. The USAF discusses some aspects of stealth-related maintenance on its F-22s:
“Once a week, the LO shop conducts outer mold line inspections on the Raptor. All the information is placed into a database that rates its stealth capability, called a signature assessment system… Senior Master Sgt. Dave Strunk, 477th Maintenance Squadron fabrication flight chief… said that LO application falls into two areas – the removal of coatings to facilitate other maintenance and the removal and replacement to bring the SAS rating down… “We are working all day every day,” said Air Force Staff Sgt. Matthew Duque, 477th Maintenance Squadron LO technician. “We have 24/7 coverage to ensure a steady flow of progress from the start of a repair to finish.” “
All day, every day, in a highly specialized and technical job, using expensive materials, equals cost. This is normal for stealth aircraft, but it’s worthwhile to illustrate why they cost more to run.
Nov 20/12: The 325th Fighter Wing resumes flying. Tyndall AFB.
Nov 15/12: Crash. An F-22 crashes less than 500 yards from the drone runway at Tyndall AFB, FL. The pilot ejects safely. In response the 325th Fighter Wing stands down operations. Also in response, Flight International asks the intriguing question: how many F-22As does the USAF have left? The researcher’s tally is 184, and the head of USAF Air Combat Command agrees. But ACC’s press had this to say:
“This is what ACC sent me: “The F-22 inventory is 123 combat-coded, 27 training, 16 test, and 20 attrition reserve. The incident at Tyndall was a training aircraft which brought the number down from 28. There are currently 186 total.”
StrategyPage offers another useful calculation, finding that the Raptor has had just over 6 serious accidents per 100,000 flight hours. That’s about double the F-16 and F-15 fleets, and around the same level as India’s air force. In this case, a subsequent report finds that a chafed wire is to blame for the $145+ million accident (q.v. Aug 8/13). Sources: USAF | Tyndall AFB | Flight International | StrategyPage.
Oct 12/12: Delayed move. Holloman AFB, NM officials announce that the scheduled transfer of 7th Fighter Squadron F-22As to Tyndall AFB, FL will be delayed for another 18 months, due to an ongoing freeze on U.S. Air Force structure changes. The freeze will also postpone the transfer of 2 F-16 squadrons from Luke AFB, AZ in Arizona to Holloman.
Meanwhile, the 7th FS continues to perform its missions from Holloman, and they returned from a 9-month deployment to “Southwest Asia” in January. Las Cruces Sun-News, “F-22 Raptors move from Holloman AFB on hold for 18 months” | USAF, “Holloman loses F-22s to fleet consolidation, picks up F-16 schoolhouse”.
Sept 27/12: Hypoxia. Associated Press reconstructs some of the history behind the F-22’s oxygen related controversies. An informal working group of experts had flagged some of these problems a while ago:
“Internal documents and emails obtained by The Associated Press show [the Raptor Aeromedical Working Group, RAW-G] proposed a range of solutions by 2005, including adjustments to the flow of oxygen into pilot’s masks. But that key recommendation was rejected… “This initiative has not been funded,” read the minutes of their final meeting in 2007.”
RAW-G also forecast potential issues with the system providing too much oxygen at lower altitudes. Its founder, Tyndall AFB flight surgeon Wyman, is now a brigadier general, and USAF Air Combat Command surgeon general. Sources: AP, Air Force insiders foresaw F-22 woes.
Sept 13/12: Hypoxia Hearings. The House Armed Services Committee’s Subcommittee On Tactical Air And Land Forces meets to discuss the F-22’s pilot health issues. At this point, the USAF Scientific Advisory Board’s Oxygen Generation Study Group has been delivered, but not implemented. USAF Air Combat Command’s Life Support Systems Task Force still needs to complete its report and provide its final recommendations, and so does NASA’s Engineering and Safety Center, but NASA’s core conclusions are known (q.v. Feb 9/13). Senior leaders from all 3 efforts are invited to testify, and the subcommittee chair is a Congressman who did his Ph.D in flight physiology, and has been involved in military accident investigations.
The full testimony is very detailed, and covers a complex subject. There’s no substitute for reading it in full at the link below. With that said, here are some key points and take-aways:
The estimated cost of fleet modifications is $82.5 million, including an Automatic Backup Oxygen System (A-BOS), Automatic Ground Collision and Avoidance System (AGCAS), Upper Pressure Garment Valve, Oxygen Hose Pass-Thru Panel, and Helmet Mounted Pulse Oximeter. Trying to mount an oximeter on pilots’ fingers kept giving incorrect readings, and it took the USAF a little while to catch on to that.
The USAF doesn’t have any plans to reduce “Raptor cough” (acceleration atelectasis) among pilots. Rep. Bartlett points out that oxygen feeds that rise way above 158 partial pressure leave too little nitrogen to keep the alveoli inflated in the lungs, especially under high Gs. If the systems adjust the partial pressure to stay close to that figure, he believes that many of the coughing-related problems & risks will go away. The USAF, on the other hand, says that super-oxygenating the bloodstream maximizes “time of useful consciousness” if the cockpit blows off and the pilot has to eject at altitude. Translation: get used to coughing.
The Raptor is different because of the amount of time spent at high altitude. Gen. Lyon notes that the has over 3,000 hours in the F-16, but less than 10.0 above 40,000 feet. In contrast, F-22 pilots spend most of their time at 40,000 – 60,000 feet. The USAF is still learning about very high altitude flying’s effects on pilots, even after 50+ years of experience with U-2 spyplanes.
The USAF doesn’t plan any changes for maintenance personnel either, who have also reported health issues. The USAF couldn’t find any significant toxicology traces in tests.
Ground testing needs to include the full life-support system, and it must be realistic. It wasn’t until the USAF started putting F-22 pilots and their flying ensembles into altitude chambers and centrifuges that they really began to see repeatable failures.
The USAF acknowledges that their flight medicine and aviation physiology research capabilities were cut back sharply during the 1990s. Some shifted to contractors, but it’s a high cost/ low payout field, aso much of the capability just went away. One of the recommendations is for the USAF to restore some of that capability.
NASA notes, dryly, that “…the investigative process could have been more efficient. The F-22 task force was never given a directive that assigned the authority to conduct the investigation. They began with two narrow hypotheses, and did not communicate well to all parties.”
Comprehensive testing has ruled out stealth coating by-products as an issue for maintainers or pilots.
All F-22 pilots and associated ground crew have received baseline pulmonary tests and blood tests, which have been put into a registry that will track them through their Air Force career “and, if necessary, beyond.” Gen. Lyon acknowledged “…if something is discovered [in future] that would be tied to this aircraft or in servicing this aircraft, we have a moral imperative to take care of those Americans.”
The F-35’s oxygen system is described as “designed with a bit more redundancy and robustness”, including a backup system.
Sources: HASC Subcommittee, “No. 112-154 F-22 Pilot Physiological Issues: full transcript” | WIRED, “<a href="http://www.w