U.S. Air Force General Expresses Confidence in F‑22

LANGLEY AIR FORCE BASE, Va., May 5, 2012 — The com­man­der of the Air Force’s Air Com­bat Com­mand met with reporters this week to dis­cuss the nation­al secu­ri­ty imper­a­tive for the F‑22 Rap­tor fight­er jet, the sta­tus of efforts to iden­ti­fy a root cause for unex­plained phys­i­o­log­i­cal inci­dents with the air­craft, and risk mit­i­ga­tion efforts since the Raptor’s return to fly­ing oper­a­tions in Sep­tem­ber 2011.

An F‑22 Rap­tor from the Hawaii Air Nation­al Guard’s 199th Fight­er Squadron returns to a train­ing mis­sion after refu­el­ing March 27, 2012, over the Pacif­ic Ocean near the Hawai­ian Islands. Dur­ing the train­ing, U.S. Air Force Acad­e­my cadets received a famil­iar­iza­tion flight to get a bet­ter under­stand­ing of the Air Force’s glob­al reach capa­bil­i­ties. U.S. Air Force pho­to by Tech. Sgt. Michael Holz­worth
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Con­firm­ing recent media reports of the F‑22 deploy­ing to South­west Asia, Air Force Gen. Mike Hostage empha­sized the Raptor’s abil­i­ty to sup­port com­bat­ant com­man­der require­ments around the world.

“I won’t com­ment where it’s deployed to or where it deployed from, but yes, the F‑22 is on an oper­a­tional deploy­ment now. And this is not the first oper­a­tional deploy­ment,” he said. “If your adver­sary is so con­cerned about what your capa­bil­i­ties are they decide not to engage with you, that, to me, is the ulti­mate use of your mil­i­tary capa­bil­i­ty. Peo­ple pay atten­tion to where this air­plane goes and what it does. … We need to make sure that it’s a sus­tained part of our inven­to­ry.”

A com­mand-direct­ed F‑22 stand-down from May to Sep­tem­ber 2011 was a pru­dent mea­sure fol­low­ing reports of poten­tial oxy­gen sys­tem mal­func­tions, the gen­er­al said. Since the stand-down, he added, Air Com­bat Com­mand has imple­ment­ed risk mit­i­ga­tion mea­sures intend­ed to pro­tect F‑22 pilots and main­te­nance crews and pre­vent future inci­dents.

Though he under­stands there are still con­cerns about the air­craft, Hostage said, a cer­tain amount of risk always is involved and must be bal­anced with the require­ment for the capa­bil­i­ty.

“In a peace­time train­ing cir­cum­stance, we want to oper­ate at as low of risk is pru­dent for the lev­el of train­ing we get out of a mis­sion,” he explained. “When we go into com­bat, risk goes up, but the rea­son to assume that risk goes up as well.

“We live in a com­mu­ni­ty where risk is part of our lives,” he con­tin­ued. “If we think the risk has gone to a lev­el where we just can’t accept it, we either reduce that risk or elim­i­nate it. But right now, we believe that risk — although it’s not as low as we would like it — is low enough to safe­ly oper­ate the air­plane at the cur­rent tem­po.”

Hostage said he does­n’t expect his air­men to take the risk alone. In an effort to learn more about the air­craft and get a bet­ter under­stand­ing of what F‑22 pilots are deal­ing with, he said, hes­oon will begin fly­ing the Rap­tor him­self.

“I’m ask­ing these guys to assume some risk that’s over and above what every­body else is assum­ing, and I don’t feel like it’s right that I ask them to do it and then I’m not will­ing to do it myself — that’s not fair,” he said. The day offi­cials fig­ure out the prob­lem is the day he will stop fly­ing, he added.

Since the air­craft resumed fly­ing oper­a­tions in Sep­tem­ber, the F‑22 has flown more than 12,000 sor­ties and returned to oper­a­tional capa­bil­i­ty.

“We’ve tak­en a very spe­cif­ic, method­i­cal approach to how we return to fly­ing — the types of mis­sions and the dura­tions of the mis­sions,” said Air Force Maj. Gen. Charles W. Lyon, Air Com­bat Command’s direc­tor of oper­a­tions, who also par­tic­i­pat­ed in the media round­table. “We’ve been con­tin­u­al­ly increas­ing the types and dura­tions.”

The Air Force con­tin­ues to search for the root cause of the unex­plained phys­i­o­log­i­cal inci­dents using detailed data-col­lec­tion meth­ods, which will soon include cen­trifuge and high-ener­gy test­ing. Hostage said he believes the com­mand is mak­ing sig­nif­i­cant progress toward an answer, but he empha­sized that sci­en­tif­ic test­ing and data col­lec­tion take time.

“I believe we are mak­ing sig­nif­i­cant progress toward an answer,” Hostage said. “I don’t want to char­ac­ter­ize how far or when, because I don’t own the progress of sci­ence. But I am con­fi­dent we’re going to get to a solu­tion.”

Both Lyon and Hostage com­pared this to the ear­ly days of the F‑16 Fight­ing Fal­con. Although the first F‑16 had its first oper­a­tional flight in 1970, the com­bat edge air­crew flight equip­ment, which was opti­mized for high‑G flight, was­n’t field­ed until about 1988, Lyon said.

“We did­n’t field it slow­ly because we had fis­cal chal­lenges,” he said. “It took us that long to get the under­stand­ing over time of what was actu­al­ly hap­pen­ing.”

Hostage said a sim­i­lar sit­u­a­tion exists with the F‑22 regard­ing the unknown effects of human phys­i­ol­o­gy and tech­nol­o­gy.

“What we’re look­ing at is human phys­i­ol­o­gy and the regime this air­plane oper­ates in,” he said. “This air­plane does things air­planes have nev­er done before in regimes of flight that we’ve nev­er oper­at­ed in before.”

Hostage said he’s con­fi­dent a solu­tion for what he calls “the most tac­ti­cal­ly-capa­ble air­craft in the world” will come.

“This nation needs this air­plane and every one of them,” he said. “I wish I had 10 times as many as I have.”

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)