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AP: Air Force Raptor fighter starts operational trials PDF Print E-mail
Justice News
Saturday, 01 May 2004 05:26
The Air Force's newest fighter plane has begun a final stage of flight testing aimed at preparing it for use with combat units. http://www.signonsandiego.com/news/military/20040430-1502-newfighterjet.html

By John J. Lumpkin

3:02 p.m. April 30, 2004

WASHINGTON ? The Air Force's newest fighter plane has begun a final stage of flight testing aimed at preparing it for use with combat units.

This week, the F/A-22 Raptor underwent its first operational trials at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif. Combat pilots will gauge the performance of the aircraft in 105 simulated missions in testing through mid-September, Air Force officials said Friday while briefing reporters at the Pentagon.

They said the plane is ready, and that a series of problems during development has been solved.

Senior Air Force officials renewed their intense pitch for the plane, which critics say is too expensive and was designed for a high-tech enemy ? the Soviet Union ? that no longer exists. Some have called for its cancellation.

If that were to happen, new generations of enemy surface-to-air missiles and fighter jets could render some regions inaccessible to existing American air power, said Lt. Gen. John Corley, one of the Air Force's acquisition chiefs.

"Do you want to cede a portion of the globe to an adversary?" he said.

Continuing the F/A-22 Raptor program may be a tougher sell, however, because of the almost complete dominance of the air by the U.S. military in recent conflicts. The F-15C Eagle, which the Raptor is intended to replace, won 104 victories in air combat and has never been shot down in a dogfight, Air Force officials said.

In the second Gulf War, Saddam's air force stayed on the ground and didn't try to oppose U.S. fighter planes.

Air Force officials insist possible conflicts in the coming decades won't be so easy, as new Russian and European fighter planes equal in capability to the F-15 are sold around the world.

Congress capped the total cost of the F/A-22 Raptor program at $36.8 billion, enough to buy roughly 220 planes, but a far cry from the Air Force's original plan to buy 750.

Marvin R. Sambur, the service's acquisition chief, said the $36.8 billion will be spent by 2010. He said he believes he can persuade Congress to add $5 billion for another 50 planes, to reach the Air Force's stated need for 277.

The first combat-ready F/A-22s are supposed to join a fighter wing at Langley Air Force Base, Va., in December 2005. Unlike the F-15C, the plane is stealthy and can fly at supersonic speeds for long ranges.

To make the plane useful in more situations, the Air Force is also giving it the ability to drop bombs and intercept cruise missiles. But those capabilities, still in development, are not going to be tested yet, Air Force officials said.

Prime contractor Lockheed Martin Corp. is making Raptors for testing, and President Bush's proposed 2005 budget includes $4.7 billion for the program, which would include the purchase of 24 fighters.

A final decision to begin full production is due only after some operational testing is complete.
Last Updated on Saturday, 01 May 2004 05:26

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