If Congress blocks F-22 retirement, expect consequences for Air Force drone programs: Hunter

An F-22 Raptor takes off from Al Dhafra Air Base, United Arab Emirates, on Feb. 21, 2022. (U.S. Air Force/Master Sergeant Dan Heaton)

DAYTON, Ohio – If the Air Force isn’t allowed to retire the oldest F-22 In fiscal year 2023, the service may not have the resources it needs to develop and operate the new drones planned to complement the service’s sixth-generation fighter jets, the Air Force’s top procurement official warned Thursday.

The Air Force plans to field a sixth-generation manned fighter jet and several unmanned “joint combat aircraft.” Next generation air dominance a family of systems that will eventually replace the F-22 Raptor. To help fund the program, the service wants to shut down 33 Block 20 aircraft is currently being used to train pilots, freeing up $1.8 billion over the next eight years.

But Congress is likely to block the move, leaving few options for needed research and development Andrew Hunterassistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition, technology and logistics, during a roundtable discussion Aug. 11 at the Air Force Lifecycle Industry Days conference.

“I am concerned about our ability to deliver a joint air combat system in addition to NGAD,” Hunter said. “That’s where I can start to see the implications, and that would limit our ability to dedicate people and resources to an aggressive effort to pursue this opportunity.”

The Air Force has requested about $52 million in FY23 to advance its Skyborg technology development efforts to the “advanced component and prototype development” stage. And while Congress may be willing to add more money to this particular program, Hunter said it’s not just about money, as the Air Force may not have the personnel or infrastructure to devote to new capabilities if it’s not allowed to retire aging aircraft in time. .

“If we didn’t divest — generally and specifically for the F-22 — we wouldn’t be able to transition the aircrews and maintenance crews that work on those platforms to the next-generation capabilities that we’re trying to put out there. ,” he said. “We’re looking forward to transitioning people from our tactical aircraft community to these new mission sets, and we want to get to the field very quickly.”

The outlook for F-22 retirements in FY23 looks bleak, based on initial feedback from the House and Senate Armed Services Committees. Both HASC and SASC included provisions in their FY23 versions of the National Defense Authorization Act that prohibit the Air Force from divesting any of its F-22s.

SASC’s version of the bill has some flexibility, allowing the Air Force to begin phasing out its F-22 Block 20 aircraft if the service meets a number of reporting requirements, such as submitting an F-22 training plan and addressing F-22 maintenance and availability issues. But the HASC bill draws a firm line in the sand, allowing no exceptions to its ban and forcing the service to upgrade F-22 Block 20 aircraft to the Block 30/35 configuration. The conference version of the NDAA, which House and Senate lawmakers will draft in the coming months, will lay out the final path for the F-22 Block 20 fleet.

During the conference Brig. Gen. Dale White, executive director of the Air Force’s Fighter and Future Aircraft Program, said the Air Force is currently working with F-22 prime contractor Lockheed Martin to develop a cost estimate for what it might take to bring the Block 20 aircraft up to the Block 30 baseline. /35 with the hope of giving an estimate in 30 days.

However, White noted that the Air Force is currently in the midst of an upgrade program for the combat-ready F-22 fleet that will add new sensors and a low-drag fuel tank and pylon that will extend the aircraft’s range. That means the Block 20s will require even more major upgrades to reach the level of capability the service believes will be needed to keep the jets relevant into the next part of the decade.

“This is going to be a colossal bill,” he said. If Congress blocks F-22 retirement, expect consequences for Air Force drone programs: Hunter

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