Are U.S. F-22 Raptors ready for full-scale warfare?
Stealth, speed, agility or knowledge are some of the characteristics that best define the U.S. F-22 Raptor, which came from Lockheed Martin to provide unprecedented air dominance to the U.S. Air Force. Fifth-generation, its armament and architecture make it one of the best air dominance fighters in the world.
However, Washington announced a few weeks ago that, as part of a broad transformation package with changes to be implemented within the 2023 Defense Budget, the U.S. forces decided to decommission part of its fleet of these advanced stealth jets. A decision that comes as a surprise due to the nature and type of aircraft being retired.
Of the 186 F-22 Raptors, the U.S. will ground 33. The transformation and retirement of the material in use would be framed within the will to counteract the evolution of the designs of combat aircraft that China is materializing, and the process tries to carry out a total withdrawal of this model in a matter of about ten years, applying the money that is not spent in its maintenance to the future NGAD (Next Generation Air Dominance), which contemplates a family of systems to continue to maintain the dominance of the sky.
Until that date, the U.S. will have these aircraft in its equipment, which it would use in the event of a large-scale war. The increase in tension with Russia, after the invasion of Ukraine, and with the Asian giant has alerted intelligence sources to a possible conflict between the countries, as well as the shipment of weapons to Kyiv.
But a study presented by the U.S. General Accountability Office (GAO) has presented a series of findings in which it relates that of all the F-22 Raptors available (186, including those that would remain on the ground), only 93 are currently combat effective, that is, half.
The report, named “Actions Needed to Address Persistent Sustainment Risks,” analyzes eight Air Force and Navy aircraft, including bombers, fighters, tankers and reconnaissance aircraft. With one metric, called “Mission Capability Rates,” it explained the health of aircraft maintenance and readiness rates. It also compared the years 2015 to 2021 and set a readiness target in percentage terms for its aircraft.
The aircraft analyzed received fairly poor marks. Only the Air Force KC-135 had a 100 percent target for all tanker aircraft. It was also the aircraft with the highest operational capability in the study.
Thus, two major fighters, the F-22 Raptor and the Super Hornet, have lower readiness scores. For example, in the case of the latter, only about 267 of the 530 available fighters are ready to fly under mission conditions.
“Neither the Air Force nor the Navy has completed mitigation plans to remedy the maintenance challenges, risks or related impacts identified in any maintenance review,” the report warns, which has alerted the Pentagon. Thus, the findings explain that the Air Force and Navy “are unable to fully address unit-level aviation maintenance challenges that affect the availability of aircraft needed for training and operations.”