Operational testing to begin in November only after Department of Defense approval

The US Air Force's training unit at Tyndall AFB, Florida, will this month receive its first Lockheed Martin/Boeing F/A-22 Raptor. The first low-rate initial production aircraft, the 18th F/A-22 to be delivered, will be handed over to the 43rd Fighter Squadron, part of the 325th Fighter Wing responsible for training USAF Boeing F-15 pilots.

Eight production-representative test vehicles (PRTV) have already been delivered to the Air Warfare Center at Nellis AFB, Nevada, for use in developing F/A-22 tactics as well as training the first cadre of instructor pilots. Tyndall is to receive 14 of its planned 28 aircraft over the next year, with deliveries to the first operational Raptor squadron, part of the 1st Fighter Wing at Langley AFB, Virginia, to begin in late 2004. A three-squadron wing of 72 F/A-22s is to be based at Langley by 2007.

Although deliveries are accelerating, operational testing of the F/A-22 is not expected to begin until November and only after the USAF receives approval to proceed from the Department of Defense. Brig Gen Mark Welsh, USAF director of global power programmes, says he is "cautiously optimistic" that the F/A-22 will demonstrate sufficient progress with avionics stability and other issues to be declared ready to enter operational testing by a Defence Acquisition Board meeting planned for late September/early October.

Because of greater-than-expected work required to modify three development F/A-22s and two PRTVs to production standard for operational testing, the USAF has split the tests into two. Phase 1 will involve single- and two-ship operations performed by the Air Force Operational Test & Evaluation Center. The start of formal initial operational test and evaluation, overseen by the DoD's independent Operational Test & Evaluation Directorate and involving realistic four-ship operations, has been delayed to February/March next year.

Welsh believes it is still possible to complete operational testing in time to support a full-rate production decision in November 2004, and the USAF's target date for initial operational capability remains unchanged at December 2005.

Source: Flight International