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Fighting with Failures Series: Case Studies of How the Pentagon Buys Weapons; F/A-22 Raptor

March 15, 2004 

 

The Air Force's F/A-22 fighter/attack aircraft is a replacement for the nation's current premier jet fighter, the F-15C Eagle. Conceived during the Cold War era, the F/A-22 originally was designed as an air-dominance fighter to counter Soviet MiG jets. In recent years, however, changing mission requirements have caused the aircraft's contractor, Lockheed Martin, to add an air-to-ground capability and also consider a future bomber version of the fighter. By latest estimates, the first F/A-22 won't become operational until late 2005 at the earliest. 1

Do We Need It?

  • The F/A-22 program is facing increasingly serious scrutiny as the post-9/11 defense budget returns to near Cold War levels. In early 2004, the President's Office of Management and Budget directed the Pentagon to conduct an in-depth study to determine if the F/A-22 is still relevant to fighting today's and future wars, and if the program is meeting its cost and testing objectives. 2
  • The F/A-22 has been on the drawing boards for more than two decades. Requirements for the aircraft, first known as the Advanced Tactical Fighter, were drawn in 1981 at a time when the nation's biggest security threat came from the Soviet Union. A formal request for proposal of the F/A-22 was issued in 1986, and after a several-years-long competition, the Raptor's contract was awarded to the Lockheed Martin in 1991.3 The Congressional Research Service has pointed out that some military experts have questioned the urgency of procuring the F/A-22 when production of equal or more advanced aircraft by other countries appears unlikely.4

Can We Afford It?

  • The Air Force has spent more than $36 billion on the F/A-22 program 5 and cost overruns have caused the Air Force to drastically cut the number of aircraft to be procured. Originally, the Air Force planned to purchase 750 of the aircraft. However, testing delays, technological trade-offs, and increasing development costs have scaled down the planned F/A-22 buy to 218 aircraft.6 If only 218 aircraft are procured, the per-aircraft cost of the F/A-22 will reach $329 million.

Does It Work?

  • The F/A-22 was recently cited as one of the General Accounting Office's poster children of a weapons development program that busts its budget and falls behind schedule because its managers have not employed so-called "best acquisition practices." Almost from the start, the program was destined for tough times because the development plan called for many new and unproven technologies, particularly in the areas of stealth, integrated avionics, aircraft design, and manufacturing processes, according to the General Accounting Office.7
  • When the F/A-22 entered into limited production in 2001, it should have been able to demonstrate almost 2 flying hours between maintenance functions, but only could fly an average of .44 hours before it required maintenance, "to date experiencing about 260 types of failures."8
  • Significant flight-test delays were caused by myriad problems "still outstanding" including unexpected shutdowns of the aircraft's avionics system, excessive movement of the vertical tails, overheating in rear portions of the aircraft, separations of the horizontal tail material, inability to meet airlift support requirements, and excessive ground maintenance actions.9
  • The General Accounting Office believes the F/A-22 program will continue to experience further testing delays and future cost overruns that will result in the procurement of even fewer than 218 F/A-22's. It considers the Air Force's acquisition strategy at "high risk" for increases in production costs.10
  • The F/A-22's software instabilities and problems with the communications, navigation, and identification and electronic warfare subsystems have seriously hampered progress of the avionics flight test program.11 The aircraft is two hours short of demonstrating it can fly a mean time of five hours without experiencing software malfunctions that impede accomplishing the mission, according to Air Force Major General Mark Welsh.12
  • During a test flight in September 2003, the pilot of F/A-22 No. 4011 became disoriented after attempting a dogfight maneuver that sent the aircraft plummeting more than 10,000 feet in an upside-down spiral. The pilot pulled out of the dive at about 2,800 feet from the ground. The Air Force has yet to make public the results of its investigation into the incident.13
  • The Pentagon's independent tester, the director of Operational Test and Evaluation (DOT&E), has expressed concern that the aircraft the Air Force provides for upcoming operational testing by his office will not be representative of the aircraft actually being manufactured.14
  • DOT&E has concerns that the F/A-22's stealth could be less effective than planned due to a decision by the Air Force to assign a fewer number of maintenance personnel to repair low-observable defects on the aircraft.15

Total Number of Aircraft: 218
Total Program Cost: $71.8 billion
Average Acquisition Unit Cost: $329 million

POGO's Fighting with Failures Series documents Pentagon shortcuts in testing and operational requirements that have resulted in weapons that do not work, that waste taxpayer dollars, or that are not suitable for combat.


Endnotes

1. Statement for the Record, Allen Li, Director , Acquisition and Sourcing Management, General Accounting Office, Before the Subcommittee on Tactical Air and Land Forces, House Committee on Armed Services, Tactical Aircraft: Status of the F/A-22 Program, GAO-03-603T, April 2, 2003, p. 2.

2. See OMB document on POGO website, February 10, 2004.

3. See F-22 Raptor History, GlobalSecurity.org web site.

4. F-22 Raptor Aircraft Program, Congressional Research Service, January 14, 2002, summary page.

5. Selected Acquisition Reports, Department of Defense, September, 2003.

6. Tactical Aircraft: Changing Conditions Drive Need for New F/A-22 Business Case, General Accounting Office, March 15, 2004, p. 2.

7. Statement for the Record, David M. Walker, Comptroller General of the United States, Before the Subcommittee on National Security, Emerging Threats, and International Relations, House Government Reform Committee, Best Practices: Better Acquisition Outcomes Are Possible If DOD Can Apply Lessons from F/A-22 Program, GAO-03-645T, April 11, 2003, pp. 11-13.

8. Best Practices: Setting Requirements Differently Could Reduce Weapon Systems' Total Ownership Costs, General Accounting Office, GAO-03-57, February 2003, p. 28.

9. Statement for the Record, David M. Walker, Comptroller General of the United States, Before the Subcommittee on National Security, Emerging Threats, and International Relations, House Government Reform Committee, Best Practices: Better Acquisition Outcomes Are Possible If DOD Can Apply Lessons from F/A-22 Program, GAO-03-645T, April 11, 2003, p. 13.

10. Tactical Aircraft: DOD Should Reconsider Decision to Increase F/A-22 Production Rates While Development Risks Continue, GAO-03-431, March 2003, highlights page, pp.1-2.

11. Fiscal Year 2003 Annual Report, Director, Operational Test & Evaluation, January 2004, p. 253.

12. "Lockheed's F/A-22 Jet Is Lagging Flight-Test Goals," Tony Capaccio, Bloomberg.com, March 1, 2004.

13. "Near Crash of F/A-22 Fighter Jet Sparked Probe, Officials Say," Richard Whittle, Dallas Morning News, October 13,2003.

14. Fiscal Year 2003 Annual Report, Director, Operational Test & Evaluation, January 2004, p. 254.

15. Ibid., pp. 254-55. 


Founded in 1981, the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) is a nonpartisan independent watchdog that champions good government reforms. POGO's investigations into corruption, misconduct, and conflicts of interest achieve a more effective, accountable, open, and ethical federal government.

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