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Leaders tell Congress about new aircraft, missions

WASHINGTON -- Secretary of the Air Force Dr. James G. Roche looks on as Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. John P. Jumper answers questions during a hearing of the House Appropriations Committee subcommittee on defense on March 19.  (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt.  Jim Varhegyi)

WASHINGTON -- Secretary of the Air Force Dr. James G. Roche looks on as Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. John P. Jumper answers questions during a hearing of the House Appropriations Committee subcommittee on defense on March 19. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Jim Varhegyi)

WASHINGTON -- The Air Force's senior leaders presented their vision of the service's next-generation fighter and a new mission for an old warhorse to members of Congress on March 19.

Secretary of the Air Force Dr. James G. Roche and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. John P. Jumper briefed members of the House Appropriations Committee subcommittee on defense on the progress of the F/A-22 Raptor and discussed a study to bring an electronic warfare mission to the B-52 Stratofortress.

"The F/A-22 program is improving," Roche said. "It's currently meeting or exceeding all key performance requirements and recently delivered our initial production aircraft to Nellis Air Force Base, Nev."

While the secretary praised the Raptor for having better radar and being stealthier than originally planned, he admitted the aircraft is having some problems with software integration.

"We're down to the problem that will plague every major weapon system the United States deals with, which is trying to have enormous amounts of software orchestrated and working together," he said.

While the problem can be frustrating, Roche said he is confident it will be resolved.

"It's an issue where you have to slug your way through," he said, "just as when the B-2 Spirit had a radar that, at one point, couldn't see through rain. You work your way through these software issues. We've made good progress in the lab. Now it's a matter of moving that progress to an aircraft."

Working the bugs out of the Raptor is vital, the secretary said, because the F/A-22 is the only weapon system capable of defending against a cruise missile attack.

"How do you defend against a surface-to-surface cruise missile that is stealthy?" Roche asked the subcommittee members. "It's not a matter of seeing it. You have to kill it."

According to Roche, the Raptor's supercruise ability is critical to establish proper angles of attack and take multiple shots at the target.

"There is no substitute," he said. "The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter can't do these things -- nothing else can."

A possible innovation for the Air Force inventory is the addition of an electronic warfare mission to the B-52, Jumper said.

"Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Verne Clark and I have talked about expanding the definition of electronic warfare to beyond just jamming (from) a fighter platform," the general said.

To complement the Navy's E/A-6B Prowler, which would accompany strike missions, Jumper sees a modified B-52 as being the ideal platform for providing long-term, persistent electronic-warfare coverage.

"The B-52 has an external fuel tank on the wingtip that is about the size of a small condominium," he said. "You can fill it with jamming equipment and provide stand-off jamming capability that can loiter for long periods of time."

Jumper said the new mission would not affect the B-52's ability to drop bombs.

Such changes for the B-52 are not new. According to Jumper, the Stratofortress has undergone three major structural upgrades since it entered the Air Force inventory in 1954.

"The platform and mission seem to come together," he said. "We don't know all the details yet, but that's the nature of what we're looking at. There's no reason to make the B-52 go away because it's so productive in our inventory."

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