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Entries in Fighter Jets (10)

Wednesday
Aug012012

Air Force: There Never Was a 'Smoking Gun' for F-22 Problems

U.S. Air Force/Senior Airman Kasey Close(WASHINGTON) -- There is no single malfunction to blame for the mystery oxygen problems with America's most expensive fighter jet, the F-22 Raptor, but the Air Force believes it has solved the potentially deadly riddle anyway by identifying a few contributing factors, a top Air Force official said Tuesday.

"In the end, there is no smoking gun," Maj. Gen. Charles Lyon, head of an Air Force F-22 investigation board, told reporters.  "We have assembled the pieces of the mosaic... I have high confidence that we have eliminated the major contributors to this problem."

The "mosaic" of issues, Lyon said, includes a malfunctioning valve on the pilot's upper pressure vest, the size and shape of hoses and connectors in the pilot's gear and, for a period, a charcoal filter that the Air Force installed after the problems began to try and catch potential contaminates.

Lyon's comments elaborated on an announcement by Pentagon spokesperson George Little earlier this week that the military was "confident" the F-22 problem was solved and that there was a plan to lift strict flight restrictions on the $420 million-a-pop planes.

The $79 billion Raptor fleet was the subject of an ABC News Nightline investigation in May, which found that in more than two dozen cases since 2008, F-22 pilots had experienced unexplained incidents of what the Air Force called "hypoxia-like symptoms" in mid-air.  Hypoxia is defined as a lack of oxygen to the brain and is characterized by dizziness, confusion, sluggishness and poor judgment.

In one case last year, a pilot became so disoriented that his plane dropped down and skimmed treetops before the airman managed to pull up and save himself.  Days later, the Air Force grounded the entire fleet while they investigated the mystery problem.

After nearly five months of searching, and with no solution found, the Air Force cautiously allowed the planes back in the air.  Only days after that, the Air Force awarded the plane's manufacturer, Lockheed Martin, a nearly $35 million contract in part to help identify the source of the problem, but they too came up empty handed.

Lyon said on Tuesday that he believes a "vast majority" of the incidents were caused by one or a combination of the contributing factors he listed.

He also said that the faulty parts were totally unrelated to a fatal F-22 crash in Alaska in November 2010 in which Capt. Jeff Haney's plane suffered a malfunction that shut off his oxygen completely.

Lyon was unable to explain why on six other occasions, ground crews had reported experiencing hypoxia-like symptoms while working on the jets, but said they could have been feeling off due to anything from dehydration, poor diet or breathing in nearby jet exhaust.

F-22 pilots have already been ordered to ditch the pressure vests and the Air Force will soon begin testing a new valve on the pressure vest.  The service is also in the process of installing an automatic emergency back-up oxygen system to the planes but does not expect to be finished until next spring.

Despite costing an estimated $79 billion, no jet in the entire F-22 fleet -- some 185 planes -- has ever seen combat.  From Iraq to Afghanistan to the no-fly zone over Libya, the Air Force said the planes simply weren't necessary.

Over the weekend, the Air Force deployed a squadron of F-22s to Kadena Air Base in Japan.  All of the planes reached their destination without incident, Lyon said.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Monday
Jul302012

Report: F-22 Fighter Loses $79 Billion Advantage in Dogfights

U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. Jeremy Lock(WASHINGTON) -- The United States has spent nearly $80 billion to develop the most advanced stealth fighter jet in history, the F-22 Raptor, but the Air Force recently found out firsthand that while the planes own the skies at modern long-range air combat, it is “evenly matched” with cheaper, foreign jets when it comes to old-school dogfighting.

The F-22 made its debut at the international Red Flag Alaska training exercise this June where the planes, “cleared the skies of simulated enemy forces and provided security for Australian, German, Japanese, Polish and [NATO] aircraft,” according to an after-action public report by the Air Force. The F-22 took part in the exercise while under strict flying restrictions imposed by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta in light of mysterious, potentially deadly oxygen problems with the planes -- problems that the Pentagon believes it has since solved.

The Air Force said the planes flew 80 missions during the event, “with a very high mission success rate.” However, a new report from Combat Aircraft Monthly revealed that in a handful of missions designed to test the F-22 in a very specific situation -- close-range, one-on-one combat -- the jet appeared to lose its pricey advantages over a friendly rival, the Eurofighter Typhoon, flown in this case by German airmen.

“We expected to perform less with the Eurofighter but we didn’t,” German air officer Marc Grune said, according to Combat Aircraft Monthly. “We were evenly matched. They didn’t expect us to turn so aggressively.”

Two other German officers, Col. Andreas Pfeiffer and Maj. Marco Gumbrecht, noted in the same report that the F-22′s capabilities are “overwhelming” when it comes to modern, long-range combat as the stealth fighter is designed to engage multiple enemies well-beyond the pilot’s natural field of vision -- mostly while the F-22 is still out of the other plane’s range. Grumbrecht said that even if his planes did everything right, they weren’t able to get within 20 miles of the next-generation jets before being targeted.

“But as soon as you get to the merge…” Pfeiffer said, referring to the point at which fighters engage in close-up dogfighting, “in that area, at least, the Typhoon doesn’t necessarily have to fear the F-22 in all aspects… In the dogfight the Eurofighter is at least as capable as the F-22, with advantages in some aspects.”

In response to the report, a spokesperson for the Air Force, Lt. Col. Tadd Sholtis, told ABC News that one-on-one combat is only one way to evaluate an aircraft’s capabilities and said it’s not, “necessarily the most relevant to every scenario.”

“The F-22 is conceived and employed as part of an integrated force that provides offensive capabilities that make close engagements far less likely while retaining the ability to handle close engagements in tandem with other fighters,” he said.

Air Force Gen. John Jumper, one of the few airmen to have flown both aircraft before he retired in 2005, said that year that it is difficult to compare the F-22 and the Eurofighter.

“They are different kinds of airplanes to start with,” he said, according to an Air Force Print News report. “It’s like asking us to compare a NASCAR car with a Formula 1 car. They are both exciting in different ways, but they are designed for different levels of performance.”

The F-22, “can maneuver with the best of them if it has to, but what you want to be able to do is get into contested airspace no matter where it is,” Jumper said, referring to the F-22′s stealth and supercruise capabilities that are meant to allow the plane to sneak in to hostile territory undetected -- an ability the non-stealth Eurofighter lacks.

As for where that contested airspace may be, the Air Force hasn’t said. But in April 2011 an executive for Lockheed Martin, the primary manufacturer of the F-22, told ABC News that the plane could “absolutely” find a home in quick strike missions against countries like Iran or North Korea. Over the weekend, the Air Force deployed a squadron of F-22s to Kadena Air Base in southern Japan just over 800 miles south of the North Korean border -- a move that comes three months after an undisclosed number of the stealth jets were deployed to an allied base in the United Arab Emirates, some 200 miles from the Iranian mainland.

The F-22 is the single most expensive fighter jet in history at a total acquisition cost of an estimated $79 billion for 187 planes, meaning each plane costs approximately $420 million. Estimates for the Eurofighter Typhoon -- the premier fighter for several allied countries including the U.K., Germany and Italy -- put that plane at just under $200 million each, according to an April 2011 report by England’s Public Accounts Committee.

“[Red Flag was] a mission to get to know each other, the first contact by German Eurofighters in the continental U.S.,” Grune said of mock-fighting the F-22s. “We are not planning on facing each other in combat. We want to work together, but it was a starter for us to work together. They were impressed, as we were impressed by them.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
May162012

More F-22 Fighter Pilots Concerned About Their Safety: Congressmen

U.S. Air Force/Senior Airman Kasey Close(WASHINGTON) -- Several more pilots have come forward to say they too are concerned about the oxygen problems plaguing America’s most expensive fighter jet, the F-22 Raptor, according to lawmakers.

On the same day that the Pentagon announced the Air Force had been directed by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to add new safety measures to F-22 missions, U.S. Sen. Mark Warner (D.-Va.) and Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R.-Ill.) told reporters that a total of nine people involved in the F-22 program -- a majority of them pilots -- have now contacted them directly about the troubled plane.

Kinzinger was on hand when two F-22 pilots, Josh Wilson and Jeremy Gordon, spoke out about their fears flying the F-22 in a CBS News’ 60 Minutes interview earlier this month.

As a recent ABC News investigation found, for more than four years pilots in the F-22 Raptors, which cost more than an estimated $420 million each, have reported at least 25 instances of experiencing “hypoxia-like symptoms” in mid-air.  In one instance, a pilot became so disoriented by an apparent lack of oxygen that his plane dipped down and skimmed treetops before he managed to save himself, an Air Force spokesperson told ABC News.

Despite investigating the source of the problem for years -- and even grounding the full fleet for nearly five months last year -- the Air Force still does not know what is wrong with the planes.  The service also does not know what caused the malfunction that contributed to the death of F-22 pilot Capt. Jeff Haney in November 2010.

The Air Force has said that any pilots that request not to fly the plane will not be punished, and the Virginia Air National Guard, for whom Wilson and Gordon fly, told ABC News the command would “not consider using disciplinary action as a means of reprisal” against them. 

However, the congressmen and an attorney for the pilots said that Wilson still has a letter of reprimand from the Guard and could face a flying evaluation board.

“If a pilot feels uncomfortable flying this aircraft, they shouldn’t be forced to,” said Kinzinger, a veteran fighter pilot himself.

Both Kinzinger and Warner said they wanted to create a space where concerned pilots and others in the program could come forward without fear of professional reprisal.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Mar082012

Air Force Contradicts Itself in Blame for F-22 Fighter Crash

Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson(WASHINGTON) -- Three months after the Air Force placed blame squarely on an F-22 fighter pilot who died when he crashed in the service's most expensive plane after his oxygen system failed in mid-air, a top Air Force official is apparently backtracking, saying that the pilot was not blamed and that he did the best he could in the situation he was in.

"We did not assign blame to the pilot," U.S. Air Force chief of staff Gen. Norton Schwartz said before a House subcommittee on Tuesday when asked about the crash and the troubled F-22 program by Rep. Jim Moran, D-Va., according to multiple reports.  "… This was a complex contingency that he did his best to manage and, in the end, we lost aircraft control."

Schwartz's comments seem to contradict the conclusions an Air Force board reached after an intense, months-long investigation into the November 2010 crash that claimed the life of Capt. Jeff Haney, who the Air Force called an exceptional aviator.  Haney crashed in the Alaskan wilderness after a malfunction caused his oxygen system to shut down completely, meaning he suffered "a sense similar to suffocation" in mid-flight, according to the Air Force report.

"The board president found, by clear and convincing evidence, the cause of the mishap was the [pilot's] failure to recognize and initiate a timely dive recovery due to channelized attention, breakdown of visual scan, and unrecognized spatial disorientation," the report said, essentially saying Haney was too distracted by not being able to breathe to fly the plane properly.  The report also noted other contributing factors in the crash but said it was still a mystery as to what caused the original malfunction.

Moran noted in Tuesday's hearing that the investigation board blamed Haney and said, "There's been a suggestion... saying that the service is trying to protect its fifth-generation fighter and those involved in the program," according to a report by The Air Force Times.

In January, the Pentagon's Inspector General's office informed the Air Force it would be conducting its own review of the Air Force investigation -- the first major review of a military accident investigation in nearly 20 years.

The sophisticated F-22 Raptors, which cost the U.S. government an estimated $77.4 billion, are meant to be among the most advanced fighter planes on the planet.  But they have yet to see any combat -- going unused in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya despite becoming combat operational in late 2005 -- and have been plagued with a rare, mysterious oxygen problem.

Last year, the Air Force grounded the entire fleet of planes for nearly five months while the service investigated why, on a dozen separate occasions, pilots experienced "hypoxia-like symptoms" mid-flight.  Hypoxia occurs when the brain is deprived of oxygen and is characterized by dizziness, confusion, poor judgment and inattentiveness.

But after scouring the planes for the source of the problem, the Air Force was unable to pinpoint any "smoking gun," as Lt. Gen. Herbert Carlisle put it last week, and cautiously allowed pilots back in the cockpit in September 2011.  Since the planes went back in the air, the Air Force has reported another nine incidents of pilots experiencing the "hypoxia-like" symptoms -- leading to a handful of one-day "pauses" in operations at various bases.

An Air Force spokesperson previously told ABC News the Air Force is watching its pilots very closely as they allow the planes to continue flying.

"The bottom line is this airplane is important to the national security and we've got the best minds we can find … we're working hard to both manage the risk and identify the exact cause," Schwartz said Tuesday. 

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Feb292012

Air Force Base Quietly Pauses F-22 Fighter Ops After More Air Problems

U.S. Air Force/Senior Airman Kasey Close(JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska) -- American pilots at an Alaskan military base have reported a sudden spike of incidents in which they experienced an apparent lack of oxygen while flying the nation's most sophisticated fighter jets -- a mysterious, recurring problem that already caused the $77.4 billion fighter jet fleet to sit idle on the tarmac for months last year.

In at least three incidents in the last two weeks, pilots of the $143 million-a-pop stealth F-22 Raptors at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson reported the "hypoxia-like" symptoms, leading the base to ground their F-22s for a day for "review," Air Force spokesperson Lt. Col. Regina Winchester told ABC News.

"In each case, appropriate procedures were applied," Winchester said, and the planes went back in the air the day after the temporary halt.  An additional case of a pilot experiencing hypoxia-like symptoms also popped up at Virginia's Joint Base Langley-Eustis earlier this month, another Air Force spokesperson, Lt. Col. Edward Sholtis, said.

Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson is home to the F-22's only fatal crash -- one brought on at least partially by an unknown malfunction that caused the plane to automatically cut off the pilot's oxygen supply during a training mission.

The Air Force has been struggling since 2008 to determine why its pilots have suffered relatively rare but repeated "physiological events" involving hypoxia-like symptoms while flying the F-22s -- about two dozen of them out of thousands of training missions flown.  Hypoxia occurs when the brain does not receive enough oxygen and can cause dizziness, confusion, poor judgment and inattentiveness, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Despite its rarity, the breathing problem became such a concern that in 2011 the entire fleet of planes -- around 180 jets that cost taxpayers some $77.4 billion total -- was grounded for nearly five months while the Air Force investigated the F-22s' life support systems.  The Air Force never found the cause and cautiously sent the planes back in the air in September 2011.

The problem, however, persists.

According to Air Force numbers provided to ABC News, pilots have reported nine unexplained instances of suffering "hypoxia-like" symptoms during flight since the grounding was lifted -- compared to a total of 12 announced by the Air Force in the more than two years prior to the grounding.  Sholtis said that new monitoring systems and greater pilot awareness of potential hypoxia-like effects could account for the relative uptick in cases.

The Air Force said the nationwide May 2011 grounding was unrelated to the November 2010 F-22 crash that claimed the life of fighter ace Capt. Jeff Haney.  Haney's plane went down in the Alaskan wilderness seconds after a mysterious malfunction caused the plane to automatically cut off his oxygen system.

After an investigation into that crash, the Air Force blamed Haney, saying he was apparently too distracted by not being able to breathe to properly fly the plane.  Hypoxia did not play a role in the crash, the Air Force report said.

Along with the F-35 fighter, which is less slightly expensive per plane, the F-22 marks America's foray fifth-generation stealth fighter jets that the Air Force said can dominate the air space anywhere in the world -- even if they've never had to prove it.  Not a single one of the Raptors has been used in combat operations from Iraq and Afghanistan to Libya since they went combat ready in late 2005.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Nov172011

Pilot's Bathroom Break Triggers Terror Scare

Comstock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- A pilot on a New York-bound Delta Air Lines flight from Asheville, N.C., became stuck in the airplane’s lavatory Wednesday night as the aircraft approached LaGuardia Airport – and when a passenger with “a thick foreign accent” tried to alert the co-pilot of the situation, ABC News has learned that fighter jets were nearly scrambled.

“The captain has disappeared in the back and I have someone with a thick, foreign accent trying to access the cockpit right now,” the plane’s co-pilot reported to air traffic controllers around 7 p.m., according to LiveATC.net.

Trapped by a faulty latch on the bathroom door, the pilot apparently got the attention of a passenger, whom he provided the cockpit security code -- a passcode designed to tell cockpit occupants that it is safe to open the secure door.

“What I'm being told is he is stuck in the lav and someone with a thick foreign accent is giving me a password to access the cockpit,” the co-pilot said, “and I'm not about to let him in.”

The exchange took place over a period of about 15 minutes before the plane indicated to LaGuardia's tower that the situation had been resolved. It was during that time, ABC News has learned, that fighter jets were nearly scrambled to the skies.

The flight, Delta 6132, operated by Chautauqua Airlines – a regional carrier for Delta – was told to make an emergency landing and Port Authority Police and the FBI met it when it came in.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Monday
Oct242011

Most Expensive US Fighter Grounded

U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Ben Bloker(WASHINGTON) -- For the second time this year the Air Force has grounded dozens of F-22 Raptors, some of the world's most sophisticated and expensive stealth fighter jets, after another pilot appeared to suffer from a lack of oxygen mid-flight.

Air Force commands at two U.S. bases "paused" missions after an F-22 pilot at Joint Base Langley-Eustis in Virginia showed signs of hypoxia while in midair, Air Force spokesperson Lt. Col. John Haynes told ABC News.

The mission suspension comes just over a month after the $143 million-a-pop F-22s were cleared to go back in the air following a nearly five-month, nationwide grounding also because of mysterious oxygen problems. In announcing that grounding, Air Force officials said that in 12 separate incidents pilots had experienced "hypoxia-like symptoms" while flying the planes over the last three years. Hypoxia occurs when the brain does not receive enough oxygen and can cause dizziness, confusion and "poor judgment."

Though no culprit for the oxygen issue was found, the Air Force cautiously cleared the planes to go back in the air in September after investigating the life support systems because it had, according to Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz, "enough insight from recent studies and investigations that a return to flight [was] prudent and appropriate."

The U.S. has more than 160 F-22s stationed at a handful of bases across the country, but the current halt is only in effect at Langley and at Alaska's Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson. Elmendorf-Richardson has not experienced an incident recently, but it is the home base of the late Capt. Jeffrey Haney who was killed in an F-22 crash during a nighttime training mission in November 2010. An investigation into that crash is ongoing, the Air Force said, but Schwartz told reporters last month the oxygen system was definitely not the cause of the crash, despite news reports to the contrary.

Along with the F-35 fighter, which is slightly less expensive per plane, the F-22 marks America's foray fifth-generation stealth fighter jets that the Air Force said can dominate the air space anywhere in the world -- even if they've never had to prove it.

Not a single one of the Raptors -- which cost U.S. government $77.4 billion for a total of 187 planes from developer Lockheed Martin, according to a report by the Government Accountability Office -- has been used in combat operations and isn't expected to "any time soon," an Air Force official told ABC News last month.

The Pentagon initially ordered more than 600 of the fifth-generation fighters, but Congress stopped at funding 187 in 2009 under a hail of criticism over the fact that the planes are designed to take on other rival high-tech fighter jets instead of the third-world militaries and insurgents the U.S. currently faces.

Only recently have rival major powers -- including Russia and China -- unveiled their prototypes for what are believed to be their own stealth fighters, designed to take on the F-22.

Since the nationwide grounding was lifted, Haynes said the F-22s have completed 1,300 training and homeland defense missions without incident, save for the one at Langley, and said that any halts at local bases are at the discretion of the base wing commanders there. There are currently no plans for another nationwide halt as other bases keep a close eye on their pilots' safety in the air.

"Everybody knows, everybody's watching," Haynes said.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Sunday
Sep112011

Security Threat Feared on AA Flight, Fighter Jets Placed on Alert

Joe Raedle/Getty Images(LOS ANGELES) -- Two F-16 fighter jets escorted American Airlines Flight 34 until it landed safely due to a security threat on Sunday.

Three individuals started the security threat by going in and out of a bathroom on board American Airlines Flight 34 from LAX to JFK. The incident occurred late in the flight.

The scare turned out to be nothing terror related. There were federal air marshals on board who were able to bring the situation under control.

FBI and Port Authority officials waited at JFK for the flight to land. Passengers will be interviewed until the situation is further resolved.

The fighter jets followed the flight for just 100 miles, according to the North American Aerospace Defense Command.

The New York City Police Department and the JFBI Joint Terrorism Task Force were monitoring the incident throughout in case additional resources were needed.

A Port Authority spokesperson Sunday afternoon said that officials deplaned everyone onboard, and the three passengers who started the incident were detained. The spokesperson also corrected a false report that the suspects locked themselves in a bathroom. Rather, the three passengers were seen going to and from the restroom several times.

No charges were filed against the suspects.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Friday
May062011

$77 Billion Jets, Never Seen Combat, Now Grounded Indefinitely

U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Ben Bloker(WASHINGTON) -- The U.S. Air Force fleet of stealth F-22 Raptor fighter jets, which has never seen combat despite costing the U.S. government nearly $80 billion, has now been grounded indefinitely.

The order came down from the Air Force's Air Combat Command Tuesday due to "recent reports of potential oxygen system malfunctions," Air Combat Command Captain Jennifer Ferrau told ABC News.

"The stand-down provides Air Force officials the opportunity to investigate the reports and ensure crews are able to safely accomplish their missions," Ferrau said.

The grounding comes just days after a rare video surfaced featuring a flight by one of the F-22s closest potential air rivals, the Chinese J-20 stealth fighter.

But for U.S. forces in each of America's three current major combat operations, having the F-22s sitting on the sidelines may not make much of a difference -- other than training and patrol operations, that's where they've been since the first of the expensive planes went combat ready in December 2005.

When the U.S. led an international effort to secure a no-fly zone over Libya in March, the Raptors did not participate. The Air Force said the planes simply weren't necessary to take out Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi's air defenses.

"If this was a requirement, it would've been used," Air Force spokesperson Maj. Chad Steffey told ABC News then. "We had all the assets that we needed in Europe already... It simply wasn't an operational requirement."

In fact, though the Air Force has more than 160 F-22s, Steffey said that they have not been an "operational requirement" in any major theater of combat for the U.S., from Iraq to Afghanistan.

Not a single one of the planes -- which cost U.S. government $77.4 billion for a total of 187 planes from Lockheed Martin according to recent report by the Government Accountability Office -- has used what Lockheed Martin's website called a "revolutionary leap in lethality" in defense of U.S. interests.

In 2009, Congress cut all funding for new Raptors, stopping the orders at 187 operational planes -- the last of which are still being delivered -- compared to the more than 600 that were originally part of the deal. However, Lockheed Martin is still receiving hundreds of millions in taxpayer dollars to make upgrades to existing planes.

The closest an F-22 has come to combat was in 2007 when a pair of Raptors intercepted and monitored two Russian bombers that were on patrol in airspace near Alaska, according to a report by Air Force Magazine.

Both the Air Force and Lockheed Martin said the reason the planes have yet to fire on any enemies is because they're designed to dominate the air against rival, sophisticated air forces or air defenses, not a small, poorly armed third-world militaries and insurgent groups.

The planes' natural enemy, therefore, is one that the program's biggest critic, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, said as of now does not exist.

"The F-22 is clearly a capability we do need -- a niche, silver-bullet solution for one or two potential scenarios -- specifically the defeat of a highly advanced enemy fighter fleet," Defense Secretary Robert Gates said in 2009 while advocating that Congress ditch further funding for the Raptor from the budget. "[But] the F-22, to be blunt, does not make much sense anyplace else in the spectrum of conflict."

Dozens of supporters of the F-22 program in the House and the Senate wrote letters to President Obama ahead of the 2009 budget decision, arguing a full force of F-22s would be needed to meet the future challenge of other nations like China and Russia that are also developing fifth generation fighters and new, high-tech air defense systems. Gates dismissed these claims and said the U.S. next generation fighters, both the F-22 and the newer F-35, would greatly outnumber any adversaries for the next 15 years at least.

Jeff Babione, the vice president and project manager for the F-22 program at Lockheed Martin, told ABC News last month China and Russia's fighter programs were a consideration in the F-22's development, but also said the F-22 could find a home in strike missions against rogue nations like North Korea and Iran.

"[The F-22s] are in an area where they would be solely or more suited for a sophisticated adversary like North Korea," Babione told ABC News. "In particular, its ability to penetrate highly defended locations -- such as North Korea -- only the Raptor would be able to get in there and prosecute the missions."

In the meantime, Babione said the F-22 was "absolutely" a prudent investment for its value as a deterrent to potential foes and said he hopes the Raptors never do go to war.

"The best weapon is the one that's never used," he said.

News of the stand-down order for the F-22s was first reported by the aviation website FlightGlobal.com.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Friday
Apr082011

The $77 Billion Fighter Jets That Have Never Gone to War

U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Ben Bloker(WASHINGTON) -- More than five years and nearly $80 billion after the world's most expensive fighter jets joined the U.S. military fleet, the high-tech F-22 Raptor has yet to see combat -- despite the U.S. Air Forces' involvement in three simultaneous major combat operations.

When the U.S. led an international effort to secure a no-fly zone over Libya last month, the F-22, the jet the Air Force said "cannot be matched," was not involved. The Air Force said the $143 million-a-pop planes simply weren't necessary to take out Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi's air defenses.

"If this was a requirement, it would've been used," Air Force spokesperson Maj. Chad Steffey told ABC News. "We had all the assets that we needed in Europe already... It simply wasn't an operational requirement."

In fact, though the Air Force has more than 160 F-22s, Steffey said that they have not been an "operational requirement" in any major theater of combat for the U.S., from Iraq to Afghanistan, since the first of the planes went combat ready in December 2005.

Not a single one of the planes -- which cost U.S. government $77.4 billion for a total of 187 planes from Lockheed Martin according to recent report by the Government Accountability Office -- has used what Lockheed Martin's website called a "revolutionary leap in lethality" in defense of U.S. interests. And though Congress cut all funding for new Raptors in 2009, Lockheed Martin is still receiving hundreds of millions in taxpayer dollars to make upgrades.

The closest an F-22 has come to combat was in 2007 when a pair of Raptors intercepted and monitored two Russian bombers that were on patrol in airspace near Alaska, according to a report by Air Force Magazine.

Both the Air Force and Lockheed Martin said the reason the planes have yet to fire on any enemies is because they're designed to dominate the air against rival, sophisticated air forces or air defenses, not a small, poorly armed third-world militaries and insurgent groups.

The planes' natural enemy, therefore, is one that the program's biggest critic, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, said as of now does not exist.

"The F-22 is clearly a capability we do need -- a niche, silver-bullet solution for one or two potential scenarios -- specifically the defeat of a highly advanced enemy fighter fleet," Defense Secretary Robert Gates said in 2009 while advocating that Congress ditch further funding for the Raptor from the budget. "[But] the F-22, to be blunt, does not make much sense anyplace else in the spectrum of conflict."

Dozens of supporters of the F-22 program in the House and the Senate wrote letters to President Obama ahead of the 2009 budget decision, arguing a full force of F-22s would be needed to meet the future challenge of other nations like China and Russia that are also developing fifth generation fighters and new, high-tech air defense systems. Gates dismissed these claims and said the U.S. next generation fighters, both the F-22 and the newer F-35, would greatly outnumber any adversaries for the next 15 years at least.

Jeff Babione, the vice president and project manager for the F-22 program at Lockheed Martin, said China and Russia's fighter programs were a consideration in the F-22's development, but also said the F-22 could find a home in strike missions against rogue nations like North Korea and Iran.

"[The F-22s] are in an area where they would be solely or more suited for a sophisticated adversary like North Korea," Babione told ABC News. "In particular, its ability to penetrate highly defended locations -- such as North Korea -- only the Raptor would be able to get in there and prosecute the missions."

Another reason Gates argued against continuing the F-22 fighter is that he said he wanted to put some of that money into the newer F-35 jet fighter. That plane, which is also in development by Lockheed Martin, "will be the backbone of America's tactical aviation fleet for decades to come if -- and this is a big if -- money is not drained away to spend on other aircraft that our military leadership considers of lower priority or excess to our needs," Gates said in 2009.

"The F-35 is 10 to 15 years newer than the F-22, carries a much larger suite of weapons, and is superior in a number of areas – most importantly, air-to-ground missions such as destroying sophisticated enemy air defenses," he said.

The F-35, at a smaller price tag per plane than the F-22, is designed to replace the F-16 -- which incidentally was involved in operations in Libya -- and "will complement the F-22," according to Lockheed Martin and the GAO report. According to Lockheed, the F-35 is better suited for current combat operations since it has a superior air-to-surface attack capability, but can work in tandem with the F-22.

While the F-35 has experienced its own serious development issues, the first planes are scheduled to be delivered to the Air Force this spring, Lockheed told ABC News earlier this year.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio







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