Volume 31, Issue 2, Summer  2017

The F-22 Acquisition Program:
Consequences for the US Air Force's Fighter Fleet

This article, which examines the F-22 program from a historical perspective, seeks to answer two questions. First, given the unprecedented age of today’s fighter fleet, why did the Air Force acquire just 187 F-22s? Second, how could alternative decisions during F-22 development have enabled the service to acquire larger numbers of these aircraft? In consideration of this historical analysis, the article then assesses the Air Force’s current efforts to transition to a fleet comprised entirely of fifth-generation fighters.


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Richard Tedesco 11/1/2012 8:40:09 AM

Retired USAF Pilot and Lockheed Martin Pilot. Great paper. It seems that all the people that write the original documents for a new aircraft, have an incomplete understanding of "can and should" be included in the aircraft. And it would also seem that none of these people will ever read your paper to keep it from happening again.

John Flaherty 11/1/2012 8:56:46 AM

There are a lot of valid arguments here, but this is a case of woulda, shoulda, coulda. Similar criticisms (including the big one: cost) were leveled at the F117; but look what a game changer it was. One area not addressed was operational costs for conducting wartime missions, to include all costs of a strike package. The F22 supposedly operates with more autonomy, requiring fewer support A/C to accomplish its mission.

Max Hanessian 11/1/2012 11:59:30 AM

Excellent critical assessment. The AF would do well to assimilate this information into current capability development, planning and programming.

Wesley Blake 11/3/2012 7:23:25 PM

Very good assessment of a project gone bad. Makes me wonder if the Air Force has ever built a fighter airplane before? Standards creep, roles creep, contractor ambivalence. Does anyone ever do a post mortem and try to apply some lessons learned for the next project? Seems not, the F-35 appears in the same project management death spiral of running out of money, patience and performance.

Gavin Wilson 11/13/2012 4:02:52 PM

The author has many facts & observations--Monday morning quarterbacks are similarly equipped. F-22's were built for adversary's equipped w/ certain capabilities. China, Russia, et. al. have such capabilities now. With 27 yrs as a Prgm Mgr, I've found that we must deal w/ the threat of OSD & Congress who constaintly rearrainge the program. Later, no one remembers the cost incurred by restructuring. W/O sunk R&D costs, the author fails to mention the marginal cost of the next F-22 was $120M! F-35s cost more than that. We need 5th Gen fighters today. Question: will we have enough in time?

Skip Collins 11/15/2012 9:06:35 AM

Excellent presentation. I might also add that an "naked" F-22 is a formidable weapon which would have been appropriate for the Tyndall training mission and operational export model (Japan-missed opportunity). Well written Chris.

Kevin Wilson 11/20/2012 8:30:42 AM

This is an excellent paper and really dissects what happened to this program. Like I always knew, we acquired this airplane at the expense of a lot of other things the USAF really needed. And now in this current fiscal climate as a force we are unlikely to get the resources we now need to fix the mountain of a problem that was only a mound twenty years ago.

Russ Hodgkins 11/28/2012 12:20:34 PM

Excellent paper. One comment: I'm not sure the Navy's experience with the F-18E/F Super Hornet was all that well planned. This program was largely a reaction to the cancellation of the A-12 program. The Navy couldn't build a new airplane, so they were backed into a corner and bought a minor modification of a production aircraft to "keep the decks filled". Had the A-12 not been cancelled, the Navy might be in the same place the Air Force is in today.

Jeff Black 4/10/2013 10:02:42 AM

The conclusion that leadership made a mistake insisting on completing the procurement of an air-to-air optimized F-22 is wrong. This decision was necessary because of cost pressures. Increased capability in the air-to-ground mode would have needed even more funding for a program that was already in the cross hairs of project killers. Fielding a stellar air-to-air machine was essential to selling the jet for alternate missions, as the F-15C was to the F-15E. It is arguable that if F-35 resources were diverted to F-22 ground attack mods, the USAF would be better off. That is impossble now.

Jim Bratton 5/13/2013 12:09:43 PM

I was in the ATF program office for Dem/Val. I've always wondered why smarter people than me never questioned the logic of an integrated avionics architecture that was obsolete before it could be fielded and ridiculously expensive to support.

Jim Henderson 8/26/2014 11:13:58 AM

Definitely a well reasoned assessment. However, I can't help but think that similar things were probably said about every AF aircraft acquisition in the last 50 years and similar things could be said about any program that might replace it. In particular that the threat changed from inception to production -- our programs all just take too long. One note, as far as needing more pilots, I'd recommend slashing the rated staff -- VERY few rated staff positions really require someone who's rated.