Total Pageviews

Search This Blog

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.                            


  1. Great read and great info, sorry it took so long for me to find it. One correction though, "Andrews" should be "Edwards" above.