The Project On Government Oversight (POGO) has learned from internal Pentagon sources that stealth maintenance on the F-22 fighter aircraft is the primary cause of its maintenance headaches, which are in turn undermining its mission capability. POGO believes that this may be the primary reason for Defense Department Acquisition Chief John Young's findings that the F-22's mission capable rate was too low to waste additional taxpayer dollars on further procurement.
One of the key justifications for the F-22 is that it will achieve air-superiority advantage by its low observability (LO), or stealth. When fully operational, LO suppresses the F-22's visual signature, radar signature, infrared signature, electromagnetic emissions, and sound. The F-22's LO is designed to provide improved survivability and lethality against air-to-air and surface-to-air threats. However, sources tell POGO that LO maintenance hours account for over half of all maintenance time, not only significantly reducing the mission capability of the plane, but also undermining the claim that the F-22 will "have better reliability and maintainability than any fighter aircraft in history."
LO maintenance hours, which include time for the planes to cure, translate into time that the F-22 is not operable. As a result, there are concerns that there will be too many F-22's unable to fly when they are needed. Air Force Chief of Staff General Norton Schwartz has stated publicly that given these stealth issues, the F-22's mission capable rate is only 60 percent.
"At a total of $354 million per plane this new information shows the F-22 is not only the most expensive but also the most difficult fighter aircraft to maintain—and it isn't even experiencing combat stress," said Danielle Brian, Executive Director of the Project On Government Oversight. "Congress and the Defense Department should recognize these dollars would be better spent on modernized F-15s or F-16s. More procurement of the F-22 isn't smart strategically or financially."
Congress has given the Defense Department a March 1 deadline to determine whether to buy more F-22s or to shut down the plane's production line.