The irony struck me this week when I read Lockheed Martin’s announcement that it had delivered the 195th and final F-22 Raptor aircraft to the US Air Force. That came about the same time as two F-22 pilots appeared on 60 Minutes last Sunday reporting problems with the airplane’s oxygen system. They report many pilots are leery of the aircraft because they have suffered hypoxia (a deficiency of oxygen reaching body tissues). Also this week there were reports of F-22 ground crews also suffering hypoxia-like symptoms.
Designed in the 1980′s, the Raptor’s initial delivery of 195 began in 1997. The aircraft incorporates an heretofore untried system of pulling air from outside the aircraft through the engine and a chemical process to provide sufficient oxygen for the pilot. Reports of oxygen deprivation symptoms began in 2007 and were determined to have contributed to one death in 2010. The Air Force’s fleet of Raptors was grounded for four months in 2011 but returned to service without resolution of the problem. The Raptors have not been used in combat despite our involvement in Iraq, Afghanistan, and “cooperation” in Libya.
The Air Force Fact Sheet reports the cost of one F-22 Raptor to be $143 million dollars or a total cost of $27,885,000,000. The US General Account Office (GAO) suggests the cost of one F-22 Raptor to be $412 million dollars or a total of $80,340,000,000.
When writing about money and the government I have to stop and try to understand the numbers I’m dealing with. 80+ billion US dollars would fully fund the U. S. Coast Guard for about seven and a half years. It would fund total state spending for elementary and secondary education in Hawaii for about 35 years, or Oregon for about 14 years or Maryland for about 7 years. That amount is just a bit less than the total revenue of COSTCO for the year ending 31 August 2011 (88.9 billion). Well I tried.
The F-22 Raptor is such a fine piece of engineering that the Air Force is in the middle a nearly 12 billion US dollar upgrade to the airplane so it can achieve its required service life. Me, I wouldn’t spend another dime on upgrading the airplane until it the hypoxia problem is resolved. And, why did the Air Force continue to accept airplanes knowing something was wrong with them?
My background is not Air Force or aviation related but I’m guessing the value of a fighter aircraft is significantly diminished if it can’t be used in combat. Just a thought – let’s stop upgrading the F-22 Raptor until the hypoxia problem is resolved and save six billion US dollars.