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Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The Uncertain Future of America's Raptors - Part II Adaptations to Budget Cuts

Image 1: Rapid deployment of F-22's to Wake island. Image Credit: Connie Reed

Author's Note: I had hoped to combine the segment discussing cost saving measures with other content as it it is quite dry but for the sake of brevity, what originally was supposed to be one article turned into three. Part III will contain information about current upgrades and part IV will discuss new tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTP) being developed for the F-22. As compensation for the shorte article, I can guarantee articles will be published every Monday for at least the next two weeks and likely the next three weeks.

The USAF has daunting task of adapting its limited Raptor fleet to meet the national security challenges posed by an assertive near peer adversary in an environment of constrained fiscal resources. Fortunately, the USAF has formulated a number of intelligent strategies to keep its Raptor force relevant well into the 2030s on a limited budget. The main elements to the USAF's effort to sustain its force of F-22's under sequestration are base restructuring, cost-effective training measures, and consolidation of F-22 maintenance facilities.

Adaptations to Budget Cuts 

Base Restructuring 

Image 2: F-22A's from Holloman AFB

Prior to sequestration, a total of five bases housed active F-22 fighter squadrons:  Langley- Eustis Virginia, Tyndall Florida, Holloman New Mexico,  Elmendorf-Richardson Alaska, and Pearl Harbor-Hickam Hawaii. A small number of aircraft are also stationed at Edwards Air Force Base (AFB) in California and Nellis AFB in Nevada for test and evaluation and training purposes. As a result of the Raptor base restructuring plan, all F-22A aircraft from both the 7th and 8th FS at Holloman were reassigned. F-22's from the 7th FS were transferred to Tyndall AFB Florida which now hosts the largest number of F-22's within the USAF at 56 aircraft. However, 34 of the 56 aircraft at Tyndall will serve in the Tyndall school house and are not scheduled to receive further upgrades or serve in a combat capacity. Finding the exact inventory of F-22's per base is difficult due to the early termination of raptor production, three F-22 crashes, and the new base restructuring plan. Typically, 24 fighter aircraft comprise a full fighter squadron and three squadrons comprise a full fighter wing of 72 aircraft (Global Security, 2011). Global security explains how combat designated F-22's would have originally been organized:

"Each of the three squadrons would be composed of 24 PAI [Primary Aircraft Inventory] F-22s plus 2 BAI [Backup Aircraft Inventory] F-22s. As such, the Initial F-22 Operational Wing would include 72 PAI and 6 BAI aircraft. PAI consists of the aircraft authorized and assigned to perform the squadron's missions in training, deployment, and combat. BAI includes those aircraft additional to the PAI that are used as substitutes for PAI aircraft undergoing maintenance, repairs, or inspections. BAI aircraft, as substitutes, permit the squadron to be at its fully authorized strength (24 aircraft). All training, deployment, and other mission activities are based on the number of PAI aircraft in a squadron." - Global Security, 2014

However, due to production shutting down upon reaching 195 aircraft with 187 aircraft delivered to the USAF, the current USAF inventory of 184 aircraft (three crashes) does not neatly break down into standard 24 aircraft squadrons. For example, the 199th FS based at Hickam only operates 18 F-22A aircraft (Global Security, 2011). When attrition reserve/BAI, test and evaluation, and training aircraft categories are included, it becomes even more difficult to discern the precise allocation of F-22s. The following are three sources which detail the existing USAF F-22A inventory.

Air Combat Command 2012:               Air Force Times (Schanz) 2011:           CRS 2013

123 combat-coded                             149 combat-coded  (including BAI)            177 production aircraft
27 training                                           34 training Tyndall                                 15 PRTV* aircraft
16 test and evaluation                           (?)                                                        1 replacement test aircraft
20 attrition reserve                                                                                            2  EMD* aircraft

Total: 186                                           Total: 183+                                            Total: 195

* PRTV - Production Representative Test Vehicle
*EMD - Engineering and Manufacturing Development
Note: CRS data does not factor in crashes.

With the deactivation of the 7th and 8th FS based at Holloman, Langley- Eustis and Elmendorf-Richardson currently maintain the largest inventory of PAI F-22's. Both Langley- Eustis and Elmendorf-Richardson received six aircraft originally from the 8th FS for a total of more than 40 PAI F-22's each. (Schanz & Global Security, 2011). The remaining two F-22's from the 8th FS were sent to Nellis. Although the decision to consolidate the USAF Raptor fleet was principally driven by limited financial resources, the new restructuring plan also was affected by the extensive training infrastructure of Tyndall AFB and the relative age of the airframes.

Image 3: F-22's from the 90th FS based at Elmendorf-Richardson Alaska.

The restructuring of the fleet was conducted in a manner as to consolidate the most modern airframes at Langley and Elmendorf and the older aircraft at Hickam and Tyndall (Schanz, 2011). This ensures that the most modern aircraft are evenly distributed across the huge geographical distances between F-22 bases.  

"The fleet is not monolithic, and another factor involved in moving around F-22s is to consolidate more-capable Block 30s and 35s at certain locations to make sure they can be utilized to their full extent...Newer aircraft arrive and older aircraft, some delivered five years ago, go to Hickam or Holloman [now Tyndall]. This is part of the fleet management plan. It 'also deals with newer versus older jets,' Akers said, noting there is a broader effort to put most of the Block 30 and 35 aircraft at Langley and Elmendorf, to make sure the capability is evenly bedded down." - Schanz, 2011

The current fleet is comprised of 34 Block 20, 63 Block 30, 86 Block 35 aircraft (Block details explained in upgrades section Part III).

Cost Effective Training 

Image 4: T-38 trainer with F-22 near Tyndall AFB Florida

Fighter pilots in the USAF regularly fly 250 to 300 hours each year in order to remain proficient with their aircraft (Global Security, 2012). F-22 airframes in particular are utilized frequently in exercises relative to other fighter aircraft within the USAF given the limited F-22 fleet size and the nature of its capabilities (Schanz 2012). However, the F-22 is the most expensive fighter aircraft in the USAF inventory to maintain at approximately $44,250 dollars spent in maintenance costs for each hour spent in the air. In a hostile fiscal environment, high maintenance and sustainment costs dramatically affect unit readiness. When the USAF's budget for flying hours was reduced by $591 million dollars from April to September of 2013, F-22 units were allotted less flying hours in order to find savings (Brian Everstine & Marcus Weisgerber, 2013). The 94th FS based in  Langley was grounded and the 27th FS (also based at Langley) was reduced from combat mission ready to basic mission capable status. The combination of sequestration and frequent wear on the airframes has forced the USAF to find alternate cost effective techniques to maintain the skills of its Raptor pilots.

"They began to take steps to reduce Raptor hours; these included supplementing pilots’ reduced F-22 time with flying hours in a T-38 companion trainer as well as heavier simulator use and other substitutes." - Schanz 2012

The 325th Fighter Wing based at Tyndall has 20 T-38 trainers which provide a cost effective means of providing adversarial training for Raptor pilots. The T-38's maintenance costs are an entire order of magnitude lower than the Raptor's at approximately $3,300 an hour.

"While the T-38 is no match for the F-22, it offers the Air Force a relatively cheap way to keep fighter pilots sharp...Using T-38s as aggressors saves fuel and gives F-22 pilots experience in being attacked by multiple aircraft rather than dueling among themselves, Wyler said. 'It's highly desired to be outnumbered'". - Koscak, 2011

In most conceivable scenarios, F-22 pilots will be significantly outnumbered by enemy forces as a result the limited F-22 fleet size. Thus, it is standard practice for multiple T-38s to engage a single F-22 pilot at visual range. In order to add another level of difficulty for Raptor pilots, the 325th's T-38 are painted in a black camouflage scheme which in conjunction with its small size makes it difficult to visually detect over the dark background of the open ocean where many training exercises take place (Lessig, 2012).

Consolidation of Maintenance Facilities

Image 5: Airman 1st Class Freddie Newman applying coatings to an F-22 at Tyndall. Image Credit: Alex Echols, 2013).

In a similar manner to the base restructuring plan, the USAF has had to consolidate its heavy maintenance facilities related to the F-22 to a single facility. Heavy maintenance work on the F-22 has traditionally been preformed at either Lockheed Martin's facilities in Palmdale California or Ogden Air Logistics Complex at Hill AFB Utah. The USAF determined by consolidating maintenance work to Ogden it could save $16 million dollars annually (Majumdar, 2013). The transition from Palmdale to Ogden is expected to take 31 months.

  1. Final Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor delivered to the USAF today, Dave Majumdar, 2012.
  2. Quadrennial Defense Review Report, Department of Defense, 2012.
  3. Obama Praises Senate Vote on F-22 Funding, Fred W. Baker III, 2009.
  4. IN FOCUS: USAF receives last F-22 Raptor,  Dave Majumdar, 2012.
  5. Lockheed Martin / Boeing F-22 Raptor Air Dominance Fighter, Dan Alex, 2013.
  6. F-22 Raptor, United States Air Force, 2005.
  7. Economic Club of Chicago Speach, Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates, 2009.
  8. F-22 Raptor Specifications, Global Security, 2011.
  9. Statement of Ronald O'Rourke Specialist in Naval Affairs, Ronald O'Rourke, 2013.
  10. Air Force F-22 Fighter Program, Jeremiah Gertler, 2013.
  11. Moving Time, Marc V. Schanz, 2011.
  12. Technology and Innovation Enablers for Superiority in 2030, Defense Science Board, 2013.  
  13. Air Combat Past, Present and Future, John Stillion & Scott Perdue (RAND), 2008. 
  14. Access Challenges and Implications for Airpower in the Western Pacific(RAND), Eric Stephen Gons, 2010. 
  15. Current/Projected F-22 inventory, BDF, 2009.                                                             
  16. Don't scoff the duck: Adversary Air conducts key role in air dominance training, Jeffrey Vanderbilt, 2013.                                                                                                                
  17. Reduced Flying Hours Forces USAF To Ground 17 Combat Air Squadrons, Brian Everstine & Marcus Weisgerber, 2013. 
  18.  Raptors for the Long Haul, Marc V. Schanz, 2012.
  19. T-38s resurrected as aggressors for F-22s, Paul Koscak, 2011. 
  20. USAF activates new F-22 squadron at Tyndall AFB, Dave Majumdar, 2013. 
  21. T-38 Talons help keep Raptors sharp in training, Hugh Lessig, 2012.
  22. F-22 Raptor Deployment, Global Security, 2011.
  23. F-16 Fighting Falcon Service Life, Global Security, 2012.
  24.  How many Raptors does the USAF have left?, Dave Majumdar, 2012.
  25. Air Force to consolidate F-22 depot maintenance at Hill AFB, AFNS, 2013.                            

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Updates February 2014

Image 1: Exercise Western Zephyr. Image Credit: Kayla Newman

About every month or so I try to give readers a preview of what they can expect in the next few weeks.

Upcoming Articles 

(1) The Uncertain Future of America's Raptors - Part II: this article will discuss ways in which the USAF is currently seeking to adapt its Raptor force towards a Pacific oriented defense posture.

(2) The Uncertain Future of America's Raptors - Part III: building off of part II, part III will include a list of recommendations in areas where the USAF has not addressed with regards to adapting its Raptor force.

(3) Divergent Thinking: How Best to Employ Fighter Aircraft Part II - The American Approach: Due to popular demand, I'll write it once I finish the Raptor series.

As always, thank you for your continued patience. As an author, I try to make this blog distinct from many other blogs by not using stream of contentiousness or making unsubstantiated claims. Unfortunately, that does come at the price of increased time spent writing and researching each article. When it comes to blogging, I've found quantity certainty does not have a quality of its own. The Uncertain Future of America's Raptors - Part II will be released in a few days, thank you.

Friday, February 7, 2014

The Uncertain Future of America's Raptors - Part I Introduction

Image 1: Pair of F-22As

The Advanced Tactical Fighter program (ATF), which resulted in the creation of the F-22A Raptor, was originally concerned with designing a new fighter aircraft capable of establishing air-superiority over Europe in the event of hostilities with the Soviet Union. In the subsequent two decades since the conclusion of the ATF program, the United States' national security challenges have radically changed. The US has moved from a European centric defense posture to a Asia-Pacific oriented defense posture, globalization has greatly eroded the technological superiority of US forces relative to potential adversaries in a variety of defense related sectors, and the combination of the Great Recession coupled with spending trillions of dollars on two major counter insurgency campaigns has hindered the Military's ability to prepare for a high intensity conventional conflict against a near-peer adversary. In total, only 195 F-22's were produced out of the USAF's original request for 750 aircraft. Of these 195 aircraft, eight are reserved for test and evaluation purposes leaving 185 in the USAF inventory due to crashes. Of these 185 aircraft, only 143 are combat coded at any one time while the remaining 42 aircraft rotate between attrition reserve, deep maintenance, and training roles (Schanz, 2011). Part one of this article will examine the problems facing America's Raptor force in the coming decades as a result of these three factors. Part two will examine how the US military is adapting to these changing circumstances while part three will examine an number of potential proposals to further increase the relevance of the Raptor in future decades.      

New US Mission Objectives

Image 2: 94th Fighter Squadron F-22 with external fuel tanks

As the War on Terror and the threat posed by rouge nation states continues to evolve but generally subside relative to the intimidate post 9/11 period, the rise of the People's Republic of China (PRC) is dictating a larger portion of the US' global defense posture. However, it is important to note the PRC is not analogous to the Soviet Union on its impact for being the single defining issue for US defense policy. Despite these reservations, the Pivot strategy and the creation of Air-Sea Battle do represent significant measures to address the national security challenges posed by a strong China. The exact objectives of the Pivot, and its overall importance within the context of US global aspirations, are frequently debated in Government but Ronald O'Rourke from the Congressional Research Service provided a coherent list of ideal or existing US objectives before the House Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee. While these objectives are specifically related to China's naval modernization, they have broader implications for the Pivot and the Western-Pacific.     
  • preventing the emergence of a regional hegemon in one part of Eurasia or another;   
  • preserving the U.S.-led international order that has operated since World War II;   
  • fulfilling U.S. treaty obligations;   
  • shaping the Asia-Pacific region; and   
  • having a military strategy for China.
The Raptor provides a unique set of capabilities to the United States in meeting these objectives from both a passive influence perspective to providing critical air-superiority capabilities in wartime conditions. Taiwan still factors into the US' Western-Pacific strategic considerations but a potential conflict between the PRC and Taiwan is no longer the single dominant concern for both US and PRC strategic planners. Conversely, disputed territories between the PRC and US allies like the Philippines, Japan, and South Korea have become more relevant to the US Western Pacific posture. A limited conflict or skirmish over a territorial dispute, such as the Senkaku Islands, has significantly different strategic considerations than a protracted conflict between the PRC and Taiwan for the survival of the Taiwanese state.

Geographical Issues

Image 3: Central battle space vs. Pacific theater. Image Credit: RAND, 2008

The original ATF program requirements specifically tailored the to the unique circumstances of engaging the Soviet Air Force over Europe under the Air-Land Battle concept. Throughout the Cold War, the United States established a network of hardened airbases throughout Western Europe which were typically within 400-500 nautical miles of potential Warsaw Pact and Soviet targets. The proximity between the US-European airbases and potential targets would have allowed for efficient sortie generation rates while keeping the airbase out of imitate danger from the ground (RAND, 2008). The Pacific theater is between three to four times the size of the central European battle space for which the F-22 was designed to operate and the US Military's basing options are heavily constrained by the geography of the Western Pacific. Given the large distances between friendly airbases and potential targets, US tanker aircraft would be indispensable for sustaining US combat operations. RAND analyzed the prospect of deploying the entirety of the USAF's F-22A Primary Mission Aircraft Inventory (PMAI) to Andersen air force base (AFB) Guam in support of Taiwan during a large scale conflict with the PRC on the graph below.    

Image 4: Raptor sortie generation rates from Andersen. Image Credit: RAND, 2008.

With a combat radius of only 410-470 nautical miles and maximum range of 800 miles (depending upon use of supercruise and relying upon internal fuel stores only), the F-22's would require several refueling stops before reaching the target area roughly 1,500 nautical miles from Andersen at Guam (Lockheed Martin, 2012). Under RAND's projections, given the extended distance resulting in extended time devoted to reaching the desired location for a combat air patrol near Taiwan, only six F-22's could continuously operate over Taiwan at any given time for a total of 138 Raptor sorties per day. In contrast, PLAF forces would be able to mount 1,300 sorties within the vicinity of Taiwan. If the United States were to operate closer to the Taiwanese strait, such as Kadena 486 nautical miles from Taiwan, F-22's stored or being refueled on the ground would be at significant risk from PRC conventional ballistic missiles such as the DF-11 and DF-21. Because the US prioritized the European theater for decades during the Cold War, US airbases in the Western-Pacific region remain relatively unhardened against cluster munition warheads (RAND, 2010). Andersen AFB is currently the only US airbase outside of Chinese conventional ballistic missile range. 

Limited Fleet Numbers & Budgetary Austerity 

Image 5: F-22 production line. Image Credit: Lockheed Martin

Despite the recent passage of the bipartisan $1.1 trillion dollar Omnibus spending bill, defense funding over the past few years has been largely marked by mandated arbitrary budget cuts and continuing resolutions instead of actual budgets resulting in fiscal uncertainty. Furthermore, the trillions of dollars spent fighting two major counter insurgency campaigns has diverted resources from optimizing the military to fight within heavily contested anti-access environments. The request for 750 aircraft prior to 1991 was steadily reduced over the next decade to just 275 aircraft in 2003 before Raptor production was finally terminated by Congress in 2009. The decision to end F-22 production was lead by the venerable then Secretary of Defense Robert Gates who described the F-22 as a "niche, silver-bullet solution for one or two potential scenarios – specifically the defeat of a highly advanced enemy fighter fleet.” In the estimation of Gates, by 2020 Washington would have over 1,100 stealth aircraft compared to Beijing's 100. While the F-35 program has made steady progress inspite of unwavering criticism from its detractors, the estimation that the United States would have 800 F-35's in operational service by 2020 remains undeniably optimistic at best. While the F-35 will fill a crucial role in the USAF, USN, and USMC inventories, it is not a dedicated air superiority platform like the Raptor.

The F-35 was designed as a multipurpose fifth generation strike fighter capable of air-to-ground and air-to-air roles. While the F-35 is clearly superior in the air-to-air role relative to any existing fourth generation plus aircraft, by Lockheed Martin's own admission the F-22 is considerably more capable in the air-to-air role. The F-35's reduced emphasis on air-to-air missions is a result of its design requirements not engineering incompetence as many have argued. The F-22 and F-35 aircraft are intended to serve inherently different roles. However, when the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) program was being conceptualized in the 1990s, it was assumed that hundreds of dedicated air-superiority F-22's would support the JSF in a continuation of the USAF's traditional high-low mix procurement strategy exemplified by the current fourth generation F-15 and F-16. In all or nothing terms, devoting the appropriate resources to support the F-35 program was the correct decision. However, if Congress was able to grant the USAF's request for 275 F-22's without detracting resources from F-35 production, it would certainly have been preferable to capping production at 195 units. While the basic infrastructure to restart F-22 production remains intact, it is nearly inconceivable for Raptor production to restart. Instead, the USAF will have to upgrade its legacy F-15C fleet to meet the requirements of the Quadrennial Defense Review(QDR), which calls for the USAF to maintain a minimum of 6 dedicated air-superiority wings of 72 aircraft each (432 aircraft total).     

Globalization & Coping Increased Technological Parity 

Image 6: Chengdu J-20

While the United States is widely recognized as maintaining a considerable technological advantage over its potential adversaries in several defense related technologies (robotics, aerospace, avionics, C4ISR, etc.), the existing US technological advantage encompassing nearly all Millitary systems is likely to be diminished significantly over the next 20 to 30 years. The loss of the current US technological advantage has been attributed to a variety of causes from globalization to reduced emphasis on publicly funded research and development by many authors but there is broad agreement that a state of technological parity between the major world powers will occur over the next few decades (Defense Science Board, 2013). A state of technological parity will have a major impact on US military operations:

"The U.S. has long relied on technically superior equipment and systems to counter adversaries who, in many cases, had greater numbers of people in their military, or at least in the engagement, because recent combat experience has been in forward-developed situations. Key capabilities characterized by speed, stealth, and precision have allowed largely unfettered access to the adversary's homeland where the U.S. has rapidly established air superiority. The resulting freedom of access coupled with ubiquitous observation, communications-enabled networked coordination of forces, and precision weapons, has provided the ability to conduct operations that range from massive fire power to surgical strike unprecedented in the history of warfare. 

In the future, increasingly technically capable and economically strong adversaries are likely to develop counters to some or all of the foundation technologies on which the U.S. has come to rely. The advantages provided by capabilities such as GPS, internet-based network communications, satellite reconnaissance, and stealth aircraft will be diminished, and in many cases, eliminated...In an environment where the Department of Defense no longer has assured technical leadership in all relevant defense technologies, there may be niche areas where adversaries will achieve superior capability to that of the U.S. military. This situation, should it occur, is most likely in areas such as cyber, where the barriers to entry are low and the capability development may not take massive financial resources."  - Defense Science Board, 2013

In summary, the US is likely to retain a technological advantage in a few areas over its adversaries and competitors vs. the current state of technological dominance across an entire spectrum of technical fields. Part II will outline the response of the USAF to adapt its fleet of F-22s to meet new US national security needs in a rapidly developing world.


  1. Final Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor delivered to the USAF today, Dave Majumdar, 2012.
  2. Quadrennial Defense Review Report, Department of Defense, 2012.
  3. Obama Praises Senate Vote on F-22 Funding, Fred W. Baker III, 2009.
  4. IN FOCUS: USAF receives last F-22 Raptor,  Dave Majumdar, 2012.
  5. Lockheed Martin / Boeing F-22 Raptor Air Dominance Fighter, Dan Alex, 2013.
  6. F-22 Raptor, United States Air Force, 2005.
  7. Economic Club of Chicago Speach, Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates, 2009.
  8. F-22 Raptor Specifications, Global Security, 2011.
  9. Statement of Ronald O'Rourke Specialist in Naval Affairs, Ronald O'Rourke, 2013.
  10. Air Force F-22 Fighter Program, Jeremiah Gertler, 2013.
  11. Moving Time, Marc V. Schanz, 2011.
  12. Technology and Innovation Enablers for Superiority in 2030, Defense Science Board, 2013.  
  13. Air Combat Past, Present and Future, John Stillion & Scott Perdue (RAND), 2008. 
  14. Access Challenges and Implications for Airpower in the Western Pacific(RAND), Eric Stephen Gons, 2010.