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F-22 excels at establishing air dominance

WASHINGTON (AFPN) -- Beginning with Lot 7 production of the F-22 Raptor, the Air Force hopes to enter into a cost-saving, multi-year procurement contract with the aircraft and engine manufacturer.

According to Maj. Gen. Richard B.H. Lewis, Air Force executive officer for the F-22 program, a multi-year procurement contract could mean a $225 million cost avoidance for the Air Force.

"Is that substantial? To me that is," General Lewis said. "To the taxpayer, a quarter of a billion savings on 60 airplanes is huge."

Lots 7, 8 and 9 of the F-22 will each produce about 20 aircraft, for a total of 60 over the course of six years. The last jet would be delivered around 2011. Due to Department of Defense budget constraints, the Air Force was directed to purchase fewer aircraft in these lots than what the manufacturer is actually capable of producing. That slowdown of production would mean a cost increase for each individual jet, one that would be mitigated, in part, by the savings realized with multi-year procurement.

Under multi-year procurement, some funding for all three lots of aircraft would be given to the manufacturer in advance under economic order quantity purchase, allowing it to buy materials and parts in bulk to reap a savings. General Lewis said multi-year procurement could save the Air Force as much as $3.7 million per aircraft.

By the end of Lot 6 production of the F-22, the Air Force and manufacturer will have worked out all the major design changes to the Raptor and integrated those changes into design plans for lots 7, 8 and 9. According to General Lewis, there should be no more changes to the aircraft until the service wants to produce a B model.

Cost savings, and now the stability in design, make lots 7, 8 and 9 of the F-22 program ideal candidates for multi-year procurement, General Lewis said.

"I contend there has never been a program better prepared for a multi-year contract," he said.

The Air Force now has funding for up to 183 F-22 aircraft, which will be distributed among seven squadrons. But General Lewis makes no secret of the fact the Air Force would like to see even more Raptors.

Today there are about 23 Air Force fighter squadrons, supported by more than 800 aircraft that are currently flying air-to-air, destruction of enemy air defenses, suppression of enemy air defenses and strategic attack missions. Those missions are performed by aircraft such as the F-15 Eagle, F-16 Fighting Falcon and F-117A Nighthawk. General Lewis said he believes about 381 F-22s could do those same missions.

"We think we can replace all of those, reduce our force structure and have more capability in the future with 10 squadrons of F-22s," he said. "When you look at the training, the combat-coded and the attrition reserve that you have for 40 years of having this airplane around, that's where we come up with 381. Right now we are happy to get our seven squadrons funded, but the requirement is greater than seven. We need 10 squadrons."

General Lewis said that if the aircraft manufacturer were to shut down the production line for the Raptor, it would be unlikely the Air Force could ever get more.

"Once production shuts down, that's basically it," he said. "You can't go back and start this thing up 10 years from now and get more in order to carry out 40 years. So we are concerned about that."

One roadblock to more Raptors is the aircraft's high cost. Estimates for the fighter jet range from as little as $132 million to as much as $312 million. So far, the Air Force has invested as much as $28 billion in the Raptor's research, development and testing. That money, referred to as a "sunk cost," is already spent and is separate from money used for future decision-making, including procuring a copy of the jet.

By the time all 183 jets have been purchased, around $28 billion will have been spent on research and development. An additional $34 billion will have been spent on actually procuring the aircraft. That's about $62 billion for the total program cost. Divided out, that's comes to about $338 million per aircraft.

But the reality is, if the Air Force wanted to buy just one more jet, it would cost the taxpayer less than half that amount. 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."

The F-22 Raptor is not an inexpensive fighter jet. But it brings to the fight a capability that eclipses that of legacy aircraft such as the F-15, F-16, F-117, the Navy's F-18 Hornet and even the yet-to-fly F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

"Even without stealth, this is the world's best fighter," General Lewis said. "The F-22, its ability with speed and maneuverability, is unprecedented. The problem with the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter in establishing air dominance is that you have to buy two or three to replace the F-22, because it only has half the weapons load, and it doesn't have the speed. You can't replace (the F-22) one-for-one with an F-35 or any other legacy fighter such as the F-15E."

During Exercise Northern Edge 2006 in Alaska in early June, the F-22 proved its mettle against as many as 40 "enemy aircraft" during simulated battles. The Raptor achieved a 108-to-zero kill ratio at that exercise. But the capabilities of the F-22 go beyond what it can do. It is also able to help other aircraft do better.

"When you are outnumbered on the battlefield -- the F-22 helps the F-18 and the F-15s increase their performance," General Lewis said. "It gives them more situational awareness, and allows them to get their expenditures because you can't kill all these airplanes with just the weapons aboard the F-22. It takes the F-15's and F-18's weapons. It was very successful, (in its) ability to get everybody to integrate."

One role the F-22 is particularly good at, General Lewis said, is establishing air dominance. This means making airspace above an area safe for other aircraft to come in do their mission. The F-22 is superb at performing air-to-air combat and eliminating surface-to-air missiles. In fact, the F-22 is capable of dealing with both of those threats at the same time.

"Because of its stealth and its speed, it is unique in that category, in that it allows us to establish air dominance," General Lewis said. "It goes after the aircraft, the SAMs, and the cruise missiles. And it can do it all at the same time. The legacy (aircraft) can do any one of those, kind of okay, but they can't survive in contested airspace. They can first try to take care of the aircraft, then they can work on the SAMs. But the F-22 has demonstrated, last year in (final operational testing and evaluation), that we can do that simultaneously."

Of particular interest to the Air Force is the F-22's ability to deal with "double digit SAMs." A double digit SAM, Air Force parlance for Russian-designed mobile surface-to-air missiles, is so named for the two digit designator in their NATO reporting name. The Russian-designed S-300P Angara, for instance, is designated "SA-10" by NATO countries. The "S-300PMU Favorit" is designated the "SA-20." Both Russia and China manufacture these weapons systems, and they are readily available on the market. These weapons are highly mobile and pose a threat to Air Force legacy aircraft such as the F-15 and F-16.

"It's a huge problem in the future if you think about a double digit SAM. A double digit SAM is equivalent to our (phased array tracking intercept of target missiles)," General Lewis said. "As you know, PATRIOTs shot down some of our own friendlies. And the friendlies knew they were being targeted by the PATRIOT. They tried the best they could and they still got shot down. That is the future if there are double digit SAMs in that environment. You have got to go in there and kill them. If you can't kill them, you will be denied air space. That is what we envision."

Recently, the Air Force and the aircraft manufacturer have been dealing with F-22 design issues. Those issues include changes to the canopy actuator, the air recharge system, the nose gear retraction system, the forward boom heat treatment and several structural retrofits. The total cost to make these repairs to the existing fleet of Raptors comes to about $105 million. These issues will be corrected in the production line for lots 6 to 9.

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