F-22s Marked for Retirement Will Never Be Combat Worthy, General Says
The Air Force hopes Congress will let them get rid of 32 Block 20 F-22s in the 2024 budget.
The U.S. Air Force can’t use its F-22 Block 20 jets in conflict—because it would require too much effort and cost too much to get the aircraft ready for battle, a top service official said.
“They will never be a part of the combat force. They don't have the most modern communications. They don't shoot the most modern weapons. They don't have the most modern electronic warfare capabilities,” said Lt. Gen. Richard Moore, deputy chief of staff for plans and programs for the Air Force.
The Air Force is asking to shed 32 Block 20 F-22s in its 2024 budget—a divestment that was blocked by Congress last year.
“There's a lot of thought that it's too early to be walking away from fifth-gen[eration] aircraft, and the Block 20s certainly are, but they are not the Block 30/35 aircraft. They are not the fifth-gen Air Force that we're going to carry into combat, and it was a little bit of a difficult choice, but a choice that we made nonetheless, because we believe it's imperative to get to the future,” Moore said Thursday during a Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies event.
Rep. Rob Wittman, R-Va., chairman of the House Armed Services’s tactical air and land forces subcommittee, said the Government Accountability Office is looking at what it would take to bring an F-22 Block 20 up to combat classification, because there’s still utility left in the aircraft.
“That new of an airframe—[it] just doesn't make sense to take out of the inventory. So I think we have to ask some really tough questions about that,” Wittman told Defense One on Friday.
The service plans to use the money it will save—roughly $485 million a year and $2.5 billion across the next five years—to fund its Next Generation Air Dominance program, Moore said, its new, secretive fighter jet.
“We are convinced and it is crystal clear to us that in order to get into the early- to mid-30s with a force that can win, we have to get to a sixth-gen fighter, and that's NGAD,” Moore said.
If Congress again blocks the Air Force from divesting the fighters, the service could be short about $500 million in planned savings, Moore said. “Perhaps it'll be in NGAD, perhaps it'll be munitions, perhaps we'll stand down the F-22 fleet—but no matter what, there'll be a half a billion dollars worth of something that doesn't get done unless the restriction comes with an accompanying appropriation.”
It would cost around $3.5 billion to bring the jets up to combat capability, and it would take a decade to get started, Moore said.
It would also require significant engineering work from Lockheed Martin, Moore said. Lockheed, which builds the F-22s and F-35 Joint Strike Fighters, is “not fully staffed” with engineers, so it would be “reasonable” to assume the company would have to pull some engineering talent off of the F-35 Block 4 program to get this accomplished, he said.
“That is a trade to us that doesn't make any sense at all—to upgrade aircraft a decade from now at great expense while impacting the F-35 Block 4 at the same time,” Moore said.
Lockheed declined to answer a question about the company’s engineering workforce numbers, but told Defense One in a statement that it continues “to partner with the U.S. Air Force on essential modernization efforts for the F-22, and we’re focused on ensuring the Raptor is ready as long as the United States needs it.”