Congress looks at re-starting the F-22 Raptor program

Story highlights

  • House panel: Maybe Air Force should produce more F-22 Raptor fighter jets
  • Lawmakers call for assessing what it would take to ramp up production years after factories shut down

(CNN)A week after Russian military aircraft buzzed dangerously close to U.S. Navy ships and Air Force spy planes, Congress is considering bringing back production of stealthy F-22 Raptor air-to-air fighter jets.

Lawmakers have tacked a provision onto a defense bill that will determine how much it would cost and how difficult it would be to ramp up production of the Air Force's fifth generation dogfighter. They also want to know about possible options for exporting F-22s to allies. Currently, exporting Raptors is illegal.
    "This assessment will ensure we have a meaningful debate about U.S. air superiority," said Rep. Mike Turner, R-Ohio, chairman of a subcommittee that's trying to add the provision. "In light of growing threats from a resurgent Russia and an aggressive China, further exploration into restarting the F-22 line is deserved."
    In 2009, then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced he was shutting down production of the Raptor, saying they were too pricey, at $412 million per plane, according to the Government Accountability Office. By the time the last one went out the door, Lockheed Martin had produced 188 of 749 the Pentagon originally planned to buy.
    The newest U.S. fighter, the F-35 Lightning II — which is only now beginning to enter the military and is not fully combat ready nor battle tested like the F-22 -- has a cost-per-plane ranging from $98 million to $116 million. The Raptor is better at air-to-air missions than the F-35, according to the F-35 website. The F-35's specialty is air-to-ground capability. Both planes have had their own widely reported sets of development challenges.
    The subcommittee's provision doesn't mention any specific countries, but it does call for exploring new production "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, multirole aircraft to meet evolving and worsening global security threats."
    The subcommittee recommended adding nearly $6 billion to the bill to address modernization shortfalls across the board.
    The "restart the raptor movement" has been bubbling up for a while.
    In March, The Aviationist said restarting the Raptor program would be smarter than developing a new generation fighter. It suggested adding some of the cutting edge features of the F-35, like its helmet-mounted instrument display.
    Skeptics say the F-22's stealth technology and its other major systems are too old for it to be revived as a truly valuable weapons system.
    American military rivals China and Russia are already moving forward, developing their own new fighters. And the Air Force has already started a fighter jet program designated "F-X". It's possible that Pentagon war planners may push back if Congress chooses to go retro and bring back the Raptor.
    The full House Armed Services Committee is scheduled to consider the subcommittee provision later this month.