A Congressional panel has asked the U.S. Air Force to explore the possibility of restarting production of the F-22 fighter jet, with an eye on potentially doubling the number of Raptors in the air.
As of April, 2016, there are 187 F-22A Raptors on the Air Force's roster. However, Air Combat Command's stated requirement for the F-22 stands at 391 aircraft. Even a congressman is smart enough to figure out that those numbers don't add up. So the House Armed Services Committee's panel on tactical air and land forces is asking the Air Force to examine just how much it might cost to pick up an extra 194 F-22s.
The proposed language cites both growing foreign threats and diminishing American air power as reasons to consider drumming up additional Raptors. "In light of growing threats to U.S. air superiority as a result of adversaries closing the technology gap...the committee believes that such proposals are worthy of further exploration," the proposal reads.
If the language makes it way into the next defense policy bill, the Secretary of the Air Force would have until January 1, 2017 to figure out what the financial toll of building the new Raptors would be. The Air Force would also be tasked with determining other potential missions for the fifth-generation fighter, how long the current F-22s are expected to last, and when a replacement fighter jet might enter production.
Despite this measure, the odds of seeing any new Raptors ripping across the skies remain tragically slim. For starters, restarting the F-22 production line wouldn't be easy—because there is no F-22 production line anymore. The two manufacturing facilities, located in Georgi and Texas, that built the fifth-generation fighter jet were disassembled after the original production run ceased in 2011. And although the production equipment was supposed to be preserved for just this sort of situation, Air Force officials say much of the tooling has been found to be mislabeled, or missing.
Even if all the pieces came into place (in some cases literally), resuscitating the F-22 wouldn't be cheap: Each current jet costs around $412 million, so buying the desired 194 Raptors would mean a bill of roughly $80 billion. That's on top of all the costs associated with rebuilding the production lines, training employees, and the myriad other little complications that come with resurrecting a cutting-edge fighter jet's assembly line.
And even then, the F-22 would likely need some modernization. While it remains America's most advanced operational fighter plane, many of the computer systems on board date back to the mid-1990s—and many of their components haven't been made in decades.
Still, there could be ways to remedy these issues. The F-22's electronics modernization efforts could be combined with future computer upgrades for the F-35 joint strike fighter, which would both reduce the per-unit cost of components and make it easier for technicians to work on both planes. And Congress could overturn the ban on selling the F-22 to foreign countries, allowing friendly powers to help foot the bill.
And hey, when the annual defense budget is close to $600 billion, what's another $80-plus billion for a whole lot of sweet fighter jets?