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Raptor program still flies

By Staff Sgt. C. Todd Lopez

WASHINGTON (Feb. 25, 2004) -- Air Force officials said they will continue with the F/A-22 Raptor program.

Fervor over the Army's cancellation of the $6.9 billion Comanche helicopter program Feb. 23 raised questions about the future of the Air Force's F/A-22, said the director of Air Force combat force capability requirements.

The F/A-22 is an air-superiority fighter with improved capability over current Air Force aircraft. From the inception of the battle, the F/A-22's primary objective will be to establish air superiority through the conduct of counter air operations. The F/A-22 also has an inherent air-to-surface capability. A combination of improved sensor capability, improved situational awareness, and improved weapons provides first-kill opportunity against the threat. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Col. Kurt Dittmer said the Air Force still has big plans for the multirole, supersonic, stealth fighter.

"[For] anything the U.S. military wants to do in the future, its lead effort is going to be the F/A-22," Colonel Dittmer said. "We think it offers a significant transformation capability for all services. It will get you into the air space to let you do what you want to do."

The F/A-22’s speed and stealth make it more survivable in a high-threat environment than other stealth aircraft such as the F-117 Nighthawk or the B-2 Spirit, the colonel said. While the F/A-22 brings new capability to the air war, it also extends the capability of existing aircraft, he said.

"The F-117 and B-2 are limited to flying at night," Colonel Dittmer said. "They are low-observable to radar, but don't have the ability to defend themselves against air threats. The F/A-22 has air-to-air ordnance and has the capability to survive in the high-threat battle space. It can take out those threats in the daytime, and that allows the F-117 and B-2 to fly in the daytime. The F/A-22 changes our stealth to a 24-hours-a-day, 7-days-a-week capable force."

The F/A-22 also brings a joint capability to the table, meaning all the services will benefit from its abilities. Other branches of the military will bring significant capabilities of their own to the battle space, but Colonel Dittmer said the Air Force must first establish air dominance for that to happen.

"We gain access for everybody,” Colonel Dittmer said. “Any future combat operations in high threat environment are going to require that we first establish air dominance. The F/A-22 will be the first thing combatant commanders ask for."

The Air Force has received more than 20 F/A-22s, the colonel said. Those are currently at Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla.; Edwards AFB, Calif.; and Nellis AFB, Nev., and are being used for testing and to train Air Force pilots.

The Air Force plans to purchase nearly 300 Raptors. The first operational F/A-22 squadron should stand up in December 2005, at Langley AFB, Va.