By Staff Sgt. C. Todd Lopez
WASHINGTON (March 23, 2005) -- Critics of the F/A-22 Raptor claim the aircraft is a "Cold War weapons system," but the Air Force chief of staff said it is a critical tool in maintaining air dominance.
"The Cold War ended, but the airplanes that were built to fight in the Cold War are still in production and have been delivered around the world," Gen. John P. Jumper said. "Even more formidable for us, they were also constructing a new generation of surface-to-air missiles. Those missiles have also been built and their designs advanced, and they are also being delivered around the world."
The Cold War may be over, but the weapons designed to fight it are still in production and in the hands of America's enemies -- both known and unknown. It is that unchecked proliferation of weapons systems that could one day threaten America's air superiority, he said.
"It is not the Cold War, but these systems that were being built for the Cold War are still being advanced today and are being proliferated around the world to create contested airspace," General Jumper said. "We must be able to access and operate in that contested airspace."
The general said the F/A-22 will help the Air Force secure that air space.
With the F/A-22, the B-52 Stratofortress or any other aircraft in the inventory, the ability to adapt is critical. General Jumper said versatility is key in keeping the Air Force fleet modern and ready to fight.
"What we have to understand is that the inventory we have in the Air Force today is going to be with us 15 years from now," he said. "We don't just do away with a whole inventory and replace it, so we had better figure out how to make this inventory work in the environments where we exist."
One example of that versatility is the B-52. It was designed more than half a century ago to fight the Cold War. Today, it is performing modern missions and proves indispensable in the war on terror, General Jumper said.
"The B-52 was built in the 1950s to drop nuclear weapons into the old Soviet Union," he said. "Right now we have a laser designator pod on the B-52, we can load it up with laser-guided weapons, and it goes around able to do anything from interdiction to fixed target destruction of communications nodes to close-air support."
The B-52 and other aircraft will have greater access to those targets in the future because of the F/A-22, General Jumper said. With its stealth and supercruise characteristics, it will be able to precede other aircraft into combat zones to clear out any threats.
Those advanced abilities allow Air Force warfighters to modify its air dominance tactics as needed.
"We adapt to the situation," the general said, "and young (and) technically proficient people figure out how to make these things relevant in the environment we are in."
Those technically proficient young people include the Airmen who have been tasked with maintaining the F/A-22. General Jumper said that in the Raptor, those Airmen have been given an aircraft that is easier to maintain than aircraft of the past.
"When you go around the F/A-22 Raptor, you see all the crew chiefs and the mechanics doing the Toyota leap with how happy they are with what they've got," he said.
The F/A-22 includes an automated diagnostics system that tells maintainers what is wrong with the airplane and an engine that has all of the accessible hydraulics lines on the bottom side so it is easier to maintain, General Jumper said. Additionally, he said, the aircraft is designed to be maintained with only a small number of tools.
The general said the Raptor, with its versatility and maintainability, is a vital component in the Air Force's air-dominance arsenal of the future.