F-22 Plagued by Recurrent Problems, Cost, Lack of Mission | Citizens Against Government Waste

F-22 Plagued by Recurrent Problems, Cost, Lack of Mission

The WasteWatcher

On the heels of much-publicized difficulties with the F-22 Raptor’s oxygen system, the Department of Defense (DOD) has awarded Lockheed Martin a $19 million contract to retrofit an automatic oxygen system on 40 of the planes it originally sold to the Air Force.

Since 2008, difficulties with oxygen systems on the F-22 have contributed to oxygen deprivation for pilots in 25 instances, and difficulties with oxygen flow was ruled to have contributed to the death of a pilot flying over Alaska in November 2010. The DOD restricted flights of F-22s last month to avoid further incidents, and some now speculate that the oxygen problems could carry over to Lockheed Martin’s other stealthy jet, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

The defense contractor delivered the last of the planned 187 F-22s in early May.

Culminating in the most expensive plane in history, the F-22 program has cost taxpayers $79 billion, with each jet totaling more than $420 million. Further, the jets are enormously expensive to operate at $49,000 per hour. F-22s have been criticized for the frequency at which they require maintenance due to their record of being in the shop one day out of five. Unfortunately for taxpayers, the F-22’s historic cost is only going to increase. The Government Accountability Office reported in April 2012 that the DOD intends to spend $9.7 billion for upgrades “that the manufacturer and the military had never planned on needing.”

Despite the sky-high level of investment by the U.S. and the frequent combat missions flown by other Air Force planes over the past decade, the F-22 has never been used in combat. On May 3, 2012, Senate Armed Services Ranking Member John McCain (R-Ariz.) asserted that the F-22 does not have a mission. McCain stated, “Facts are stubborn things… [The F-22] has not flown a single combat mission... I don't think the F-22 will ever be seen in the combat it was designed to counter, because that threat is no longer in existence.” According to Sen. McCain, even if the oxygen system is fixed, the F-22 still constitutes a waste of $79 billion. When asked by 60 Minuteswhat the Air Force should do with the F-22, Sen. McCain responded that the existing planes should be used for fly-overs at air shows. That is not exactly a ringing endorsement from a former combat pilot.

The F-22 was designed to counter a next generation Soviet jet that was never created, and the aircraft remains a relic of Cold War defense strategy. Given its ultra-specialized function and high maintenance costs, the F-22 faces an uncertain role in U.S. strategy both in the present day and moving forward. DOD budget analysts would be wise to reconsider future investment in the platform, given the plane’s recurrent oxygen problems and enormous future costs. The Air Force should instead rely on other proven aircraft that provide a cheaper alternative and still perform the mission capably.