Lockheed Martin would support restarting the F-22 Raptor production line if Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney were to be elected and followed through with a pledge to buy more of the stealthy fifth-generation fighters.

"Lockheed Martin will support the US government should the decision be made that more F-22 Raptors are needed to defend our nation and our allies," the company says.

Earlier in the week, Romney had told a Virginia television station that he not only opposed the Congressional sequestration budget cutting maneuver set to go into effect on 2 January, but that he would increase the size of the US military.

"I would also add F-22s to our air force fleet," Romney says.

The so-called sequestration maneuver would cut the defence budget by a further $500 billion over the next ten years.



Production of the twin-engined F-22 came to an end earlier this year with the last of 187 aircraft ordered being delivered to the US Air Force on 2 May. But the tooling and techniques to build the Raptor are being preserved at the Sierra Army Depot in California.

The USAF had originally wanted some 750 Raptors, but due to the post-Cold War drawdown had reduced its requirements. But, prior to then-Secretary of Defense Robert Gates truncating the programme, the USAF maintained that it needed a minimum of 381 Raptors to fill 10 operational squadrons consisting of 24 primary authorized aircraft and two back up jets. The remaining F-22s would fill out training and test units.

Analysts are skeptical about Romney's plans.

"Romney has big if vague plans, but very little guidance on how to pay for it," says analyst Richard Aboulafia of the Teal Group. "If he wants to keep taxes and the deficit at a constant or lower level, it's hard to imagine cuts elsewhere providing the cash."

Loren Thompson, chief operating officer at the Lexington Institute and a Lockheed consultant, says restarting the production line would be very expensive. "I think it would be more than a billion dollars, frankly," he says.

"You can't just go back and see if the suppliers are still available," Thompson says. "They all have to be recertified. The workers will have been moved on to other activities for the most part, they will have to be recertified, and in some cases, retrained."

Nor is it likely that if the production line were to be reconstituted that the new Raptors would match the configuration of the surviving 185 F-22s in service with the USAF today. While the Raptor's kinematic performance and stealth are unmatched, compared to the leading edge of technology that industry can build today, the Raptor's avionics architecture and sensors are dated, Thompson says. The USAF would likely need to invest in some significant upgrades for those new production jets, should they materialize.

Moreover, the USAF may not be willing to jeopardize the tri-service Lockheed F-35 programme in order to buy only a limited number of extra Raptors. "If the air force thought that the proposal to buy a hundred more F-22s would in anyway slow down the F-35 programme, they would not support it," Thompson says.

The F-35 is set to become the mainstay of the USAF tactical fighter force. The USAF hopes a future force of 1763 F-35s will eventually replace its Lockheed F-16 and Fairchild Republic A-10 fleets.

Source: Flight International