Now out of production, the Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor is troubled by an unresolved problem thought to be tied to its onboard oxygen generation system (Obogs). Nevertheless, the U.S. Air Force recently deployed the stealthy fighter to Al Dhafra airbase in the UAE, and it plans to add new capabilities to the aircraft over the next decade.
In late April, the Air Force confirmed sending F-22s to “Southwest Asia” for what was described as a normal deployment to promote regional security. The deployment apparently sends a message to nearby Iran over its nuclear ambitions. Days later, on May 2, the Air Force took possession of the 195th and final F-22, delivered by Lockheed Martin Aeronautics in Marietta, Ga. The final aircraft joined the fleet of 187 operational F-22s. Eight other Raptors were used as test aircraft.
With production ended, the Air Force plans to add new capabilities to the Raptor. Testifying May 8 before a Senate Armed Services Committee subcommittee, Lt. Gen. Janet Wolfenbarger, military deputy to the assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition, said the service’s Fiscal Year 2013 budget request includes $512 million for research, development, test and evaluation of F-22 modernization and $333 million for procurement. Initial operational capability of an Increment 3, which will add synthetic aperture radar ground mapping, threat geolocation and Small Diameter Bomb carriage, is planned this year.
Increments 3.2A/B in 2014 and 2018 will add advanced electronic protection and combat identification, AIM-120D and AIM-9X missiles and “significantly improved ground threat geolocation.” According to the Government Accountability Office, the Air Force plans to spend $9.7 billion on F-22 modernization through 2023.
But the latest developments are clouded by unresolved incidents of hypoxia, or oxygen deprivation, experienced by F-22 pilots, possibly rooted in the Obogs. A seven-month investigation by the Air Force Scientific Advisory Board failed to identify the cause, and the service continues to study the problem.
The Pentagon has added to earlier steps undertaken to protect against hypoxia with three new requirements. George Little, acting assistant secretary of defense, announced the latest steps during a May 15 briefing. The Air Force will expedite the installation of an automatic back-up oxygen system in all F-22s, retrofitting 10 aircraft per month beginning in January. Effective immediately, all F-22 flights “will remain within the proximity of potential landing locations” and long-duration flights in Alaska will be performed by other aircraft. Finally, the Air Force must report monthly to Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta on its efforts to identify the cause of hypoxia incidents.