Why did the United States stop F-22 production? Could Lockheed Martin Restart the production line?

Lockheed Martin’s F-22 raptor has proven to be a formidable warplane with its unique combination of stealth, speed, maneuverability, altitude and sensors. It’s simply the best air superiority fighter the United States has ever produced. But the U.S. Air Force is facing a real dilemma : not having enough dedicated air superiority fighters while Russia and China beef up their own strategic capabilities. Such challenges are compounded by the fact that the Air Force’s Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor fleet was terminated after only 187 aircraft were built. This is less than half of the 381 jets that the service needed as a bare minimum. Air Combat Command commander Gen. Hawk Carlisle has been quoted as saying he would love to see the Raptor back in production. It was a short-sighted decision to end its production run prematurely.

While many within the Air Force and outside would love to see the Raptor back in production, it is not likely to happen. The primary reason for this is that the tooling and instructions for building the F-22 are not accessible. Even though Lockheed Martin and the Air Force have supposedly made every effort to prevent this from happening, problems have emerged when maintenance crews have attempted to access equipment in order to repair damaged jets.

They faced severe difficulties with retrieving the correct tooling, and in one case, the Air force maintainers needed to build a particular component from scratch to replace damaged parts for an F-22. The containers housing the tooling and instructions to build the parts are often found empty, much to the frustration of the crews. As the issue still remains unresolved, it is clear that the Air Force would have to invest in additional time and money to restart the line.

US Air Force F-22's arrive at Osan Air Base

The second factor in the F-22 premature ending lies within the F-22 Raptor’s avionics, which were deemed dated even before the jet was declared operational in December 2005. Even though the Raptor is the most advanced operational warplane in the Air Force’s inventory, its computer architecture dates back to the early 1990s. The technology is dated and the jet may not be relevant to the threat environment past the 2030s.

Since it took so long to get the jet from the design phase to production, the Raptor’s software is particularly difficult to upgrade and the jet’s avionics would have to be completely revamped for a production restart. Not only are they obsolete, they also haven’t been made in decades and it would be a very expensive proposition at a time when the Air Force’s budgets are dwindling.

The third reason to consider is that the basic F-22 airframe design originates from the 1980s. The Raptor has been in service for a decade and the technology is old in regard to its stealth, propulsion, avionics and airframe design. The tech has come a long way since the F-22 was designed, and if the Air Force were to invest several tens of billions of dollars into the aircraft, they must ensure that it is still relevant to the threats that are expected decades from now. Essentially the aircraft should have been designed to be 30 years ahead from when it was made operational for it to stay contemporary.

By 2035, the Raptor will have been in service for 30 years and most of its systems would be hopelessly obsolete by then.The Air Force has actually no intention of restarting the Raptor production line. If one considers that PAK-FA and J-20 are both around the corner, it makes the Air Force’s decision even more compelling. The Air Force has already started laying the groundwork for a next-generation air superiority capability it is calling the F-X. We have no way of knowing how all this will play out, but it will surely have to be designed to fight the threats of the future.

If  a war broke out, the US Air Force would absolutely need to have more F-22s as soon as possible. So how soon could they get a new one?  In essence, how  long would it take to retool a factory, train workers, acquire materials, and start building F-22 units?

The answer is, not immediate. The tooling required for manufacture is not freely accessible and any air-frame cannot be assembled without the required tooling. In addition, the Air Force would have to re-acquire the technical expertise to build even a single part. The F-22 is a strategic weapon system which is essentially a deterrent to any strategy that major players like Russia and China implement. If the line needed to be restarted the US government and Air Force would have to move mountains to spin up production again.

After Lockheed Martin terminated F-22 production at its Marietta, Georgia, and Fort Worth, Texas, facilities, The House legislation has looked into the Air Force restarting the assembly line if the need arises. Congress has expressed keen interest throughout this year’s budget season in restarting the line. Air Force officials, on the other hand, have consistently dubbed reviving the Raptor line as a nonstarter, citing the enormous cost of the project.

According to the bill, the committee believes that such proposals are worthy of further exploration, in light of growing threats to U.S. air superiority as a result of adversaries closing the technology gap. Increasing demand from allies and partners for high performance, multi-role aircraft to meet evolving and worsening global security threats is another stimulus for this proposal.

Meanwhile, the bill would also require the US Comptroller General to analyse the sustainment support strategy for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program and report to the congressional defence committees regarding this. Lt. Gen Chris Bogdan has however cautioned that the F-35 supply base may not be able to juggle the workload associated with production spikes and everyday maintenance.

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  • Nowhereman

    The F35 has not turned out what they had expected.
    Re tooling for the F22 would not be too hard to do as the technology for that airframe is now well known and producible.
    My personal opinion, bring back the F23 to complement the F22 and stop production of the F35 for overseas sales.

    • How about concentrating on F-15s and F-16s for now and developing a new fighter air frame?

      • Max Glazer

        Age of the airframe and flight hours are running out. In permissive environment such as Iraq, A’stan, Syria etc where air defense is obsolete, use of F-15/16/18 is sufficient. But USA wants Russia. Russia has a very dense network of mobile SAM systems which are always on the move, are in layered layout with overlapping radar coverage and are designed to intercept TBM and MRBMs. Fighter jets are no problem for them. To have a chance of operating without sustaining unacceptable losses, they need stealthy airframes and F-35 had way too much invested into it to turn back now. They’ll make it perform the required tasks. Just a question of time and money.

        • Dr.Madhav

          We can never get Russia. Not without global catastrophe.
          Yes, let’s forget taking on China and Russia. Sadly, our years as numero uno are running out thanks to the stupid foreign policies, promotion of rubbish (war-torn) democracies and what not.

          • Max Glazer

            Problems of USA are rooted also in domestic policies. Education in schools, both primary and secondary, as well as kindergarten, is geared to create a consumer and a person that can perform a set of specific tasks while unable to think wide. Intelligent people are being deliberately dumbed down. While it suits the short term goals of having compliant public, it creates an obvious flaw which reduces an amount of genuinely smart people. That will cause a slide in technological, social, economic and other spheres.

            USA had been apparent number one country, however personally, and from what I was able to gather, it has been number one only in its offensive capability. It had many problems in socio-economic sphere for a long time and these days it simply became a lot more apparent then it had been back in the days where social media didn’t exist and everyone had a camera phone. Sure USA has plenty of things to be proud of. It’s just that too many take it the wrong way when someone mentions the negatives.

            My native Russia had never been a chest-beating “leader” in anything. Russians mostly had been relatively quiet achievers. With plenty of flaws of its own.

            USA doesn’t promote democracy full stop. How can one promote something when one doesn’t have it at home? What USA does as of last 50 years is install puppet government where it wants to in order to achieve its political goals.

            I don’t know if China will come to help Russia in case of an all-out.

  • Max Glazer

    it’d take months to restart production of F-22. They’d also end up supplying it with new avionics suite since the hardware stuff from 90s wasn’t produced for a long long time. Programming for all of it too.

    • Donald_S

      Max, allow me to offer you and anyone reading this post some insight from someone once on the inside. When it comes to weapons system Lockheed Martin can do anything with 2 caveats; 1) There is an unlimited supply of cash thrown at them, and 2) There is no time limit to do whatever it is the pentagon wants done. Therefore I’m saying if there are no financial or schedule constraints Lockheed Martin, as well as Boeing and Northrup, can produce anything.

      Therefore to restart the F-22 production line the pentagon needs books of blank checks and until ‘the next ice age’ to build the original F-22’s as designed. They might be able to get it done a little sooner if they outsource it to China.

      If only John Q. Taxpayer knew how the defense biz worked then she and he might take notice of the executives working at defense contractors who are making their personal fortunes peddling half-azzed crap that is over budget and delivered so late the enemy already has a new plane in their arsenal that is better.

      This taxpayers in this country will continue to lumber along fat, dumb, and happy, accepting whatever politicians feed them until another Pearl Harbor + 9/11 + blitzkrieg wipe out event takes place at the same time all on US soil.

      • Max Glazer

        Those caveats apply to everyone really. The disgraceful management of programs as well as big bosses cramming pockets with cash irrespective of performance will continue for as long as there is noone to punish them for this. USSR had a practice of punishing officials for mismanagement. That can only work where there is government involvement. Privateers will always try to take what isn’t really theirs.

  • PCFan

    Why not make a twin engine f-35?

    • Max Glazer

      Original intent was to make something lightish and cheap. Single engine will always be significantly cheaper then twin-engine. To both make and operate.

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