WASHINGTON — Almost five years after Lockheed Martin shut down production of its F-22 stealth fighter jet, House legislation released Tuesday would directed the Air Force to look into restarting the assembly line.
At the direction of then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Lockheed terminated F-22 production at its Marietta, Georgia, and Fort Worth, Texas, facilities after producing just 187 aircraft — – far short of the original requirement for 749 jets. But in light of the growing perception that the US military is losing its technological edge to adversaries like Russia and China, Congress has expressed keen interest throughout this year’s budget season in restarting the line. The F-22 has also drawn attention recently from several high-profile deployments to Europe and the Middle East.
However, Air Force officials have consistently dubbed reviving the Raptor line as a nonstarter, citing the enormous cost of the project. A 2010 RAND study commissioned by the Air Force placed the cost to buy just 75 more F-22s at $17 billion in 2008 dollars.
The House Armed Services Tactical Air and Land Forces subcommittee's markup for its section of the 2017 defense policy bill directs the Air Force secretary to conduct a study of the costs associated with procuring at least another 194 F-22s. The legislation would require a report on the study to the congressional defense committees no later than Jan. 1, 2017.
"In light of growing threats to U.S. air superiority as a result of adversaries closing the technology gap and increasing demand from allies and partners for high performance, multi-role aircraft to meet evolving and worsening global security threats, the committee believes that such proposals are worthy of further exploration," according to the bill proposed legislation.
Elsewhere in the bill — following schedule slippage for the Air Force's next-generation ground surveillance fleet — the subcommittee is seeking information about accelerating the effort to recapitalize the Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System, or JSTARS.
For JSTARS, the 2017 budget request projects a delay of as much as six months in awarding the engineering and manufacturing development contract, shifting it to fiscal 2018 and at least a one-year delay in the initial operating capability, shifting it to 2024.
Because the Pentagon expects a shortfall of 10 JSTARS aircraft in its fleet of 16 operational aircraft by late fiscal 2025, the bill calls on the secretary of the Air Force to develop two plans to accelerate the JSTARS recapitalization program — to 2022 and 2023 — and to brief the committee by Dec. 1.
The bill also expressed disapproval of the Air Force's efforts to increase the scope of work within the technology maturation and risk reduction (TMRR) phase, which was initiated late last year after the Pentagon approved "Milestone A." The Air Force should instead pursue alternative radar technologies outside the program of record.
Meanwhile, the bill would also require the US Comptroller General to analyze the sustainment support strategy for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program and report to the congressional defense committees by April 1.
Because the procurement strategy relies on other nations to partner with the US, the F-35 joint program office, according to its chief, Lt. Gen. Chris Bogdan, is striving to build a "global sustainment enterprise." He has cautioned the F-35 supply base may not be able to juggle the workload associated with production spikes and everyday maintenance.