The F-22 Missing in Action

The F-22 could clearly have been used in the Libyan operation.  Among the many benefits of its use would have been a significantly reduced operational footprint, a wider range of national command authority options, and enhanced impact of the deployed force.

The fact that it was not used could have been based on not wanting to display capabilities in this operation that have more impact on a different operational envelope.  It could have been based on not exposing its performance to the Chinese ship deployed in the region.

But the stated reasons from the Administration are very puzzling.  The argument that it could not talk to coalition aircraft or to those of the U.S. is simply belied by the realities of Red Flag exercises since 2006.  The F-22 after killing everything in sight then remained on station to provide command and control functions for other aircraft

Clearly, it has proven itself to be not just the world’s most capable combat aircraft, but also a flying sensor platform with on-board capabilities allowing it to perform command and control as well as ISR functions that require a legion of specialized legacy aircraft.

The entire no-fly zone operation over in Libya could have been conducted with a squadron of F-22s.   However, that would have obviated the need for any other coalition partner from participating and therefore was not a desirable option politically — ergo the primary rationale for not using F-22s to impose a NFZ in Libya.

Using legacy, non-stealth aircraft, to suppress the Libyan integrated air defense system required suppression/destruction to proceed with the imposition of a NFZ, but it also allowed for the participation of the multiple nations that made up the coalition.

The other reason stated in testimony to the Congress by senior USAF leaders is really rather amazing.  The Air Force Chief of Staff stated that the plane was not deployed in Europe and therefore could not be used.

However, the Air Force rightfully prides itself in being ready to deploy aircraft around the world in a matter of hours regardless of where they are based.  Last time I looked planes fly and can be deployed globally.   The B-1 and the B-2 were used in the Libya operation and these aircraft were launched from the United States.

The real reasons may be more troubling.  The non-use exposed some significant policy issues.

First, the modernization of the F-22, which Gates tells everyone he is doing, is not being provided for.  Among many other things, the MADL link remains missing. The entire network to enable the F-22 and F-35 to work together is significantly underfunded.

Second, if the non-deployment of the F-22 was due to low numbers, or absence of deployed aircraft then you have simply proved General Corley’s assertion that we did not buy enough of them for the global needs of the United States. And, of course, firing the ACC commander because of this policy dispute would have been elevated as a potential policy issue.

Third, if it was not deployed because of inability to work with allies in the region, then you simply have highlighted the failure to deploy.  The former Air Force leadership repeatedly sought to deploy the aircraft to the Middle East.  The advantage of course is that allies and the USAF learn to work together in non-crisis in order to be ready for crises.  So what was the motivation not to do this?

Fourth, the F-22 communicates with the type of aircraft used in the Coalition just as well as they do with each other — by use of its radio systems.

Fifth, the National Command Authority could have attacked the entire Libyan air force without the Libyans ever having seen the strike force.  And the President could have had this option without deploying a much larger footprint.  So why is more capability with a lighter footprint a bad idea?

All of this would be perhaps an important sidebar in U.S. history but for one reason: the national leadership is showing no willingness to engage in the transition of air power that 5th generation aircraft enable.

Why is one of the most innovative countries on earth unwilling to capitalize on the significant shift in air power innovation?

For all the reasons described above, the driving rationale for the type of aircraft used in this operation was politically based, not capability-based.  However, the question remains: what in fact was the nature of the “politics” involved — altruistic in terms of enabling a coalition; or self-serving in terms of covering-up a questionable termination of the F-22 program?

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9 responses to “The F-22 Missing in Action”

  1. Michael Wynne says:

    The action to leave the F-22 on the sideline can be attributable to a continued effort to discount its capabilities, stemming back to the decision to terminate based on its non use in the on going conflicts at the time. As well it is a triumph of stove piped development that the Air Force today stopped the development of interoperable tools for the air dominant platform, and then allows that it has difficulty with foreign and legacy Air Platforms. This leads to a need to redefine the roles and missions for the force size remaining. Our strategic forces are aging and getting smaller, so this will be key.

  2. MD says:

    F-22 non use is only important in the minds of those who want to cancel or delay a program. [Unfortunately, the press buys this line of arguement.] We haven’t used lots of systems in the most recent conflicts … but that doesn’t mean we we don’t need them. When is the last time we have used ICBMs, nuclear submarines, attack submarines, P-3s, etc. etc.

    During Desert Storm we did not use the B-1 … and that was seen in the critics’ eyes as reason to cancel the program. However, fast forward to Afghanistan and we see that there are two B-1s over the country 24/7 … and Gen Petreaus says it is his most important asset.

    As to the F-22, it is important to remember that it did not achieve Initial Operational Capability until 2005 … when we had already achieved air supremacy over both Iraq and Afghanistan.

    Plus — there are numberous reports that the Commander of CENTCOM sought the deployment of the F-22 at least three times … and it was denied by Sec Gates … presumably to keep the facade up that the aircraft were not important to US war efforts.

  3. MD says:

    Talking about systems that have not been used. What about Army and USMC tanks. They two Services combined have 5,000 tanks … and we used about 400 in Iraqi Freedom.

    Maybe we should consider retiring batches of these vehicles on which we spend lots of money driving them, repairing them, and … eventually replacing them.

  4. Bob Pesce says:

    The F-22 is becoming the B-58 of the fighter world. Great technology, too many issues to make it worth it (not enough juice for the squeeze as they say). The AF needs to move on and utilize the technology elsewhere in greater quanities for a cheaper price. Fully expect a wholesale standdown of the F-22 fleet in the next 5-7 years.

  5. Ed says:

    Interesting point on B-58 but with four J-79 GE engines it was overpowered and tended to skid around corners. In other words it had design problems that could not be aerodynamic work arounds –for example two J-79s in an F-4 in full after burner had about 13 minutes of fligt time–

    The F-22 has been reported by Fighter pilots as a great aircraft to fly.

  6. mal says:

    How much of the F-22’s non deployment can be attributed to the oxygen problem that it has been having.

  7. Robbin says:

    Good question on the oxygen issue; but this is not a backbreaking issue; it is due in part to the fact that the government has taken over maintenance of the F-22; the Administration has replaced the PBL with industry which worked fine; the depot and the government team worked fine together; and the availability rates have gone done; so not only has the Administration cancelled the program but they changed the way it was maintained which in turn lowered the availability rates. Great moves there!

  8. Robbin says:

    And lest you wonder whether there is a gap between the operators and the politicians check this out

    New Concept Gets Latest Technologies To Warfighters Quickly

    by Donna Miles
    American Forces Press Service
    Edwards AFB CA (SPX) May 07, 2007

    The F-22 Raptor and Global Hawk unmanned aerial vehicle had barely finished their maiden flights and begun serving in the war on terrorism when engineers, developers and testers here were already at work to improve on the capabilities of those aircraft.

    That concept, referred to as “incremental development,” is moving the latest technology to the field in support of warfighters as soon as it’s ready while next-generation evolutions are being developed.

    “Our goal is to create the very, very best weapons systems we can and, once we ensure that they are safe and reliable, to get them to operators as quickly as we can,” said Col. Chris Cook, the commander of the 412th Operations Group.

    Colonel Cook said the incremental development concept reminds him of a famous Army Gen. George S. Patton quote: “A good plan, violently executed now, is better than a perfect plan next week.”

    “It puts capability into the warfighter hands as quickly as possible,” Colonel Cook said. “It may not put the final solution in their hands, but it puts capability.”

    Two of the Air Force Flight Test Center’s highest-visibility programs exemplify this effort.

    When the F-22, a fifth-generation fighter jet, left Langley Air…

  9. Robbin says:

    And continuing
    New Concept Gets Latest Technologies To Warfighters Quickly

    When the F-22, a fifth-generation fighter jet, left Langley Air Force Base, Va., in February for its first real-world deployment to the Middle East, Lt. Col. Dan Daetz, the operations officer for the 411th Flight Test Squadron, said he was wowed by its power, maneuverability and stealth.

    “This is a revolutionary airplane. It’s a big leap from anything that we’ve ever had before,” Colonel Daetz said. “But we’re not finished with this airplane yet.”

    A chart in Colonel Daetz’ office spells out four major incremental changes planned for the F-22 through 2014 that will make it more lethal and more precise in its targeting. Other advances on the avionics front will give crews unprecedented situational awareness.

    “This plane is really in its infancy,” Colonel Daetz said. “It will be around for decades and, to be honest, we probably haven’t even thought yet about some of the capabilities it will eventually have.”

    Likewise for the Global Hawk, the unmanned aerial system provides wartime commanders unprecedented high-resolution, near-real-time intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance imagery.

    “It’s like an electronic vacuum cleaner,” Colonel Cook said.

    The next-generation Global Hawk, already being tested here, will feature a bigger payload, larger wingspan and new generator able to provide more electrical output, said Lt. Col. Andy Thurling, the commander of…

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