Study On Restarting F-22 Production Has Finally Arrived, Here's The Verdict

The report has finally been delivered to the House Armed Services Committee, and its secret, but its findings are already emerging. 

Lockheed

Back in April on 2016, congress ordered a formal study on the costs and feasibility of restarting F-22 production. The order came amid deteriorating relations with a militarily resurgent Russia and decaying technology supremacy over China's growing military apparatus, and over half a decade after the Raptor line was originally shuttered. The move made big news, and it stood as yet an another indication that what some of us had been saying for years was finally becoming  the consensus inside and outside the USAF—that production of the world's first 5th generation super fighter was terminated far too early. 

As time went by, and the political winds in Washington changed direction, the possibility of a Raptor reprise faded into background as did the pending report. But now, six months after it was due, the study has quietly materialized—and nobody gets to read its findings but certain members of congress. But some details are emerging and they aren't really surprising or too encouraging. 

Unofficial estimates have varied drastically, from relatively affordable to horrendously expensive, on how much it would take to start building F-22s again. Also, false rumors have been rampant that the tooling for the jets, which is supposed to be carefully stored away along with videos on how each part of the Raptor construction process was executed, had been junked. There has also been much speculation as to what a new "F-22B" would look like and what the jet would be equipped with, but the question of how much money it would take to just get any form of Raptor back into production remained a mystery. 

Lockheed Martin

Now that mystery is likely solved, yet the USAF won't let the American people see the details. This really isn't too surprising as The USAF and industry will do seemingly anything to keep competition for the ultra lucrative F-35 program at bay, so deep sixing the F-22 study could very well be just another in a long line of moves to protect the Lockheed's true "golden goose." But even with the secrecy, here's what we are finding out, with both Military.com and the Washington Examiner posting similar figures:

-Approximately $50 billion to procure 194 additional F-22s 

-Total includes an estimate of approximately $7 billion to $10 billion for non-recurring start-up costs and $40.4 billion for aircraft procurement costs

-An estimated cost of $206 million to $216 million per aircraft (the last F-22 produced had a unit cost of $137 million)

In many ways this actually beats some cost estimates as far as restarting the production line. And at roughly $200 million per jet, the USAF could buy two F-35s for a single new F-22. But comparing the two is troublesome, as with both jets are in inventory and you don't need anywhere near the numbers of Raptors as you do F-35s. Additionally, buying more F-22s could (and should) mean less F-35s would be required depending on how you look at the USAF's overall force structure. Not just that, but involving other countries in the restart, notably Japan and possibly Australia, these costs to the USAF alone can come down.

Lockheed Martin

The big question as we highlighted before is what is a "new" F-22? Does it have an avionics system based on the F-35? Is it tailless and stretched to increase its stealthiness, range and weapons payload? Or is it a F-22 as we have today with basic upgrades to its computers and materials where necessary to accommodate modern production lines and techniques? The former is likely what the numbers above depict. 

But the F-22 remains the undisputed air supremacy fighter the world over, it has proven itself invaluable in Syria, and even the USAF has admitted the F-35 is no match for the jet's extreme capabilities for certain key missions sets. But with a new bomber in the works, the need to upgrade or totally replace rapidly aging legacy fighters, as well as a whole other avalanche of priorities that are battling it out over the Pentagon's unpredictably sized piggybank, realizing a Raptor production reprise remains just as doubtful as ever. Even the F-22 force the USAF already has is lacking key capabilities due to poor priorities and funding shortfalls. 

Above all else, not even the manufacturer is interested in executing such a plan as their sights are laser focused on the much larger and far more lucrative F-35 pie.

After delivering the report to the House Armed Services Committee, the Trump Administration's new Secretary of Air Force Heather Wilson made it clear that the USAF has no interest in building more "very expensive" F-22s. 

"The startup costs are significant and very expensive... The chief has assigned a fighter roadmap. Our plan is to put any resources we have into that roadmap and not into restarting a line from an older aircraft."

This was likely the outcome no matter what the study found, and in all honesty, the USAF would be better off at this point pouring big bucks into advanced unmanned air combat vehicles—the same kind of drones technology the force acts as if doesn't exist—than an already shuttered manned fighter program. 

As such, the F-22 will live on as a silver bullet force of around 181 jets, of which only roughly 125 are combat coded, and only about two thirds of those are ready to fly actual missions at any given time. 

The aircraft has really become a somewhat depressing, cautionary tail of how clumsy, spastic and nearsighted the Pentagon procurement process can be. 

Contact the author: Tyler@thedrive.com

Note: Author added "for certain key mission sets" for clarity.