WASHINGTON Nov 20 The U.S. Air Force fleet of
F-22 Raptors, designed to be the world's top fighter jet, needs
more than $8 billion dollars of upgrades to be made "capable
and affordable to operate," the Pentagon's top arms buyer said
The comments by John Young, the undersecretary of defense
for acquisition, highlighted Pentagon opposition to buying more
than the 183 F-22s on order from Lockheed Martin Corp (LMT.N),
the prime contractor.
The Air Force long has argued it needs 381 F-22s to be able
to dominate the skies at the start of any major war and clear
the way for other U.S. and allied warplanes.
Young said the Air Force already had budgeted about $8.3
billion for software upgrades and unspecified modifications to
about 100 of the F-22s that would otherwise "kind of be lesser
Those outlays should be taken into account before talking
about buying more jets, he told reporters at a breakfast.
"I don't think the debate is informed by all those facts,"
In addition, the F-22's "mission capable rate," a measure
of its readiness, fell in the 62 percent range in the 2008
fiscal year, Young said.
"I think that's troubling," he went on, adding the fighter,
which features advanced technology to reduce detection by
radar, "is proving very expensive to operate."
Christopher Bolkcom, an expert on warplanes at the
Congressional Research Service, said the mission capable rate
was an incomplete gauge of an aircraft's availability.
"As a rule of thumb, however, 62 percent is
unsatisfactory," he said.
Young said there were also struggles with low-observability
and other issues that he did not name.
"Clearly, (there's) work to be done there to make that
airplane both capable and affordable to operate," he said.
The F-22 had failed to meet most of its "key performance
parameters" in operational tests last year and the trend was
negative. Maintenance manpower hours per flying hour had gone
up since previous tests, with the last one a "substantial"
increase, he said.
Lockheed Martin, which has delivered 131 F-22s to the Air
Force, declined to comment on Young's remarks, referring calls
to the Air Force, which did not immediately respond.
The Pentagon last week released $50 million in bridge funds
to preserve a decision on future F-22 production for the
incoming administration of President-elect Barack Obama.
The production line must start shutting down early next
year unless Obama opts to buy another batch.
Lockheed produces the F-22 aircraft in partnership with
Boeing Co (BA.N) and United Technologies Corp's (UTX.N) Pratt &
Whitney, which builds its dual F-119 engines.
In June, Gates ousted the Air Force's top military and
civilian leaders amid a tug-of-war over funds for the F-22,
which he considers ill-suited for post-Cold War conflicts such
as Iraq and Afghanistan.
(Reporting by Jim Wolf; Editing by Andre Grenon)