The U.S. Air Force plans to spend $11.7 billion to upgrade its fleet of Lockheed Martin Corp. (LMT:US)’s F-22 jets, according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office.
The cost would be on top of the $67.3 billion the Pentagon has spent buying 188 F-22 jets, the GAO said in a report sent to U.S. lawmakers today. The last of the F-22 jets rolled out of Lockheed’s plant in Marietta, Georgia, today.
U.S. purchases of the stealthy F-22 jet, which was designed at the height of the Cold War to take on Soviet aircraft in aerial dog fights, was truncated by former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who favored Lockheed’s F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. In the 1990s, the Air Force had planned to buy as many as 648 jets.
The projected cost of making improvements to the F-22 fleet have “more than doubled” since 2003, when the first estimates were made and the schedule to upgrade the jets has “slipped by nearly seven years” to 2017, the GAO said in the report.
The jets began corroding soon after they were introduced into the Air Force in 2005 and the entire fleet was grounded in 2011 because of problems with an on-board oxygen system that caused pilots to become dizzy. The necessary repairs and ballooning maintenance costs led U.S. Senator John McCain, an Republican, to call the plane an “expensive, corroding hangar queen.”
Captain Jeff Haney, 31, died when his F-22 crashed in Alaska in November 2010. His widow, Anna Haney, has filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against Lockheed and its subcontractors, the Los Angeles Times reported March 20.
Air Force officials told the GAO that “they underestimated the sheer magnitude of the modernization effort, both in the amount of time required to develop and integrate the capability, and costs to complete the modernization,” according to the GAO.
The additional costs will go toward improving radar capabilities, electronic communications, ground target identification systems, new missiles such as AIM-9X, and structural repairs
Operational F-22s are based at Langley Air Force Base, Virginia; Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska; Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico, and Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii.
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