The “Other” F22 Debate: How to Sustain the Aircraft

The F-22 debate has been highly charged politically.  It has been used as a symbol for “defense waste” and “high technology irrelevance” by its detractors; and as a symbol of declining commitment by the United States to global power projection and strategic protection to its allies.

But missing in this debate is a clear and honest look at the industrial impact of cancellation on the U.S. defense industrial base and its ability to support core aerospace systems and capabilities.  A number of considerations should be brought to the fore as key elements of any F-22 termination approach or decision.

The F-22 employs a number of highly qualified workers and engineers who will be displaced while waiting for an F-35 ramp up;

The F-22 electronics increasingly overlap with those of the F-35 and gaining actual operational experience with the F-22 provides a substantial impact on the reliability of the F-35;

By buying additional US aircraft (40-60) the US would be in the position to keep the line in production so that exports to Japan, and Australia and possibly Israel would allow up to another 100 F-22s to be procured which would then represent 1/3 of the deployed US and allied fleet;

Secretary Wynne explores these issues in his op-ed on slidinfo.com. But there is another issue which has received virtually no consideration: how will the aircraft be maintained in the years ahead? For industry, across the board, a key issue is to be able to shape a core business in logistics support and maintenance.  To do so requires, effective public-private partnerships or an expanded private role in sustainment.

But in the case of the F-22, the USAF is seeking to curtail sharply the role of the private sector in maintaining the aircraft. This raises fundamental questions with regard to the role of depots in relationship to industry and how to ensure a collaborative relationship with industry, which delivers best value in sustainment.  As one industrial executive put it to sldinfo.com: “The USAF wants to go back to 1975.  We are deeply concerned that the return to a virtual depot system will significantly reduce the efficiencies built into modern manufacturing.”

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***Posted September 20th, 2009

"If everyone is thinking alike, someone isn’t thinking."

—General George Patton Jr.

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