An influential House panel wants the U.S. Air Force to consider restarting the long-dormant F-22 Raptor production line, potentially buying 194 more copies of the advanced – and very expensive -- fighter jet.
The House Armed Services tactical air and land forces subpanel on Tuesday unveiled language that could wind up in the fiscal 2017 defense policy bill directing the Air Force to examine the costs of getting the production line for the twin-engine, fifth-generation aircraft humming again, and then buying the additional aircraft from manufacturer Lockheed Martin.
Lawmakers noted that production of the F-22 concluded in 2011 and only 187 aircraft were purchased, far short of the original program goal of about 750 aircraft, and just over half of the stated requirement by Air Combat Command for 381 warplanes. The Government Accountability Office estimates that each plane cost $412 million.
"The committee also understands there has been interest within the Department of the Air Force, Department of Defense, and Congress in potentially restarting production of the F-22 aircraft," the subcommittee writes.
"In light of growing threats to U.S. air superiority as a result of adversaries closing the technology gap and increasing demand from allies and partners for high-performance, multirole aircraft to meet evolving and worsening global security threats, the committee believes that such proposals are worthy of further exploration,” the bill states, with a nod to advances made by Russia and China in recent years.
Therefore, “the committee directs the Secretary of the Air Force to conduct a comprehensive assessment and study of the costs associated with resuming production of F-22 aircraft and provide a report” back by January 1, 2017.
Lockheed delivered the last F-22 in 2011 and then took apart its assembly lines in Georgia and Texas. The Pentagon has labored in the last two years to put the effort’s troubled past behind it, deploying the jet against ISIS and sending it on training assignments to Europe in a move aimed at calming allies worried by Russia’s increasingly aggressive behavior.
Aside from the staggering price tag of buying 194 new aircraft at $412 million apiece – which back-of-the-envelope math shows would cost U.S. taxpayers roughly $80 billion – there are other substantial costs associated with getting the F-22 line back online.
For example, in 2010 a service-commissioned RAND study found that the cost to restart the F-22 production line just to buy an additional 75 aircraft to be $17 billion in fiscal year 2008 dollars. That figure has in all likelihood increased over the last six years as the cost of parts and technology has risen.
Still, that isn’t stopping lawmakers from at least asking the Air Force to study the idea.
Specifically, wants the report to address "anticipated future air superiority capacity and capability requirements, based on anticipated near-term and mid-term threat projections" and " estimated end-of-service timelines for existing” F-22s.
Congress also wants to know the cost to buy the additional 194 aircraft and to detail opportunities for potential exports. Unlike the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, current law forbids the Raptor from being sold to allies, leaving the U.S. on the hook for all of the F-22’s costs.
The House Armed Services subpanel will mark up its portion of the fiscal 2017 national defense authorization act on Wednesday and the full committee will take up the measure on April 27.