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AF provides Congress with Raptor update

FILE PHOTO -- Air dominance is the first priority of any combat commander and the F/A-22 Raptor will provide it for them, according to Lt. Gen. John D.W. Corley, the principal deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition at the Pentagon.  He testified before the House Armed Services Committee subcommittee on tactical air and land forces.  (U.S. Air Force photo)

FILE PHOTO -- Air dominance is the first priority of any combat commander and the F/A-22 Raptor will provide it for them, according to Lt. Gen. John D.W. Corley, the principal deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition at the Pentagon. He testified before the House Armed Services Committee subcommittee on tactical air and land forces. (U.S. Air Force photo)

WASHINGTON -- Air dominance is the first priority of any combat commander and the F/A-22 Raptor will provide it for them, Lt. Gen. John D.W. Corley said in congressional testimony April 2.

Corley is the principal deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition at the Pentagon.

"Air dominance provides our forces with freedom from attack while giving them the freedom to maneuver and attack," Corley told members of the House Armed Services Committee subcommittee on tactical air and land forces. "Without the F/A-22, our ability to execute future joint and coalition war plans will be placed in jeopardy."

The nation's adversaries are taking advantage of new technologies and acquiring caches of inexpensive and deadly weapons, such as advanced surface-to-air missiles and radars, that could provide a nearly impenetrable curtain around enemy targets, he warned.

Penetrating this curtain would pose a tremendous challenge for the aging existing aircraft, he said.

"The F/A-22 will not only have the capability to penetrate (this curtain) but also the ability to suppress and destroy these systems and open the door for follow-on joint and coalition forces," Corley said.

The Raptor can also outperform the most robust enemy aircraft being delivered in quantity today or envisioned for the future, he said.

"No enemy target will be safe from the F/A-22 or the forces it enables," he said. "It's the linchpin for ensuring air dominance for this nation."

Therefore, the Air Force has been committed to keeping the Raptor program on track and has made great strides toward that end, according to Brig. Gen. Richard B.H. Lewis, program executive officer for Air Force fighter and bomber programs at the Pentagon.

"Both the development and production aspects of the (F/A-22) program are doing well," Lewis said in testimony to the subcommittee. "There has been a 2.5-fold increase in the testing rate over the last six months."

The Air Force and the contractor have also completed the static and first lifetime fatigue testing of the Raptor airframe, he said.

Static testing subjects the airframe to more than 1.5 times its engineered maximum load to examine how it holds up, Lewis explained. In fatigue testing, the airframe is subjected to stress that simulates hours of flying and repetitive movements to determine the Raptor's durability.

"We've found no major issue from either test," Lewis said.

The Raptor program did face some challenges that required additional flight tests, including the aircraft's fin buffet response and "canopy howl," the general said.

"Fin buffet is an airflow phenomenon that occurs in all twin-tailed fighters," Lewis explained. "It's a complex issue but we studied it, tested it and fixed it with minor and inexpensive modifications. We also resolved an issue with wind noise in the cockpit called canopy howl."

Today, the Raptor team is attacking an avionics stability issue in the same way, he said.

"Recently we've made fundamental changes in the avionics development efforts," he said. "I'm certain that, like fin buffet and canopy howl, resolution of avionics stability is not a matter of 'if' but 'when.'"

Although the Raptor program has tackled technologies other programs have never faced before, its biggest adversary is not an enemy aircraft or missile. It is money, Lewis said.

"Cost is very important to us and that's why we're focused on production affordability," he said.

In September 2001, the Department of Defense approved the buy-to-budget strategy for the Raptor. The Air Force remains fully committed to the strategy and is confident that it can procure 276 Raptors for $43 billion, Lewis said. However, Lewis added, more Raptors are needed and the Air Force is pursuing ways to lower costs and procure more aircraft.

"It's important to recognize that the ground we're paving on the Raptor in many ways enables our future force," Lewis said. "The F/A-22 (program) is developing and implementing state-of-the-art technology, fusing leading-edge capabilities and pioneering manufacturing techniques. These will ultimately yield not only the world's greatest aircraft but also establish an invaluable set of lessons learned for developing future complex weapons systems."

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