Last Year, a Report Declared the Stealth F-22 Raptor Was in Trouble

Michael Peck

Key point: The F-22 program isn't being well-run and that is causing major headaches.

Poor U.S. Air Force organization and management have contributed to problems with the F-22 Raptor fighter, according to a Government Accountability Office audit back in July 2018.

F-22 availability, already diminished by maintenance problems endemic to the complex and finicky stealth fighter, has been further reduced by the small size of F-22 squadrons and the practice of deploying small detachments from individual squadrons overseas. The combined effect has been to reduce F-22 availability to the point where there are neither enough planes to meet mission requirements nor to provide pilots with sufficient training for air-to-air combat, which is the Raptor's primary role

"The small size of F-22 squadrons and wings has contributed to low aircraft availability rates," according to GAO. "Further, the Air Force practice of deploying a small portion of a squadron makes it difficult for F-22 squadrons, as currently organized, to make aircraft available for their missions at home station. The Air Force would also face difficulties generating aircraft to support DOD’s concepts for using distributed operations in high threat environments with its current F-22 squadron organization."

Typical Air Force fighter wings comprise three squadrons of 24 aircraft apiece. F-22 wings comprise one of two squadrons of 18 to 21 aircraft apiece (GAO notes that F-35 wings will be organized according to the traditional model, with two to three regular-sized squadrons per wing). Larger wings are considered more efficient because equipment and personnel can be shared, thus two-squadron F-22 wings in Alaska and Virginia have enjoyed higher aircraft availability than single-squadron wings.

Compounding the problem is the Air Force practice of dividing squadrons into detachments, called Unit Type Codes, for overseas deployment. But the F-22 UTCs are not a uniform size.  For example, one of the F-22’s UTCs is designed to have only 6 of a squadron’s 21 aircraft but contains almost 50 percent of the squadron’s equipment, approximately 40 percent of the squadron’s maintenance personnel and 60 percent of its operational personnel," which leaves the remaining portion of the squadron with too few resources, GAO says.

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