Secrecy

60 Minutes Latest to Discover F-22 Raptor Is Awful

|

Was there a wide consensus in favor of the F-22 Raptor fighter jet before 60 Minutes reported on the plane's tendency to deprive its pilots of oxygen and become disoriented?

What horrible thing will we find out about the F-22 next?

This strange framing introduces last night's otherwise excellent interview with two Air Force Raptor pilots-turned-whistleblowers who have come forward to warn of this particular set of dangers with the jet.

Here's how Lesley Stahl introduces her interview with Maj. Jeremy Gordon and Capt. Joshua Wilson:

"The shiniest jewel in the Air Force is its F-22 Raptor, a sleek, stealth fighter jet that the Pentagon says can outgun and outmaneuver any combat plane anywhere in the world. But for all its prowess, the Raptor has yet to be used in combat. It was designed to go up against an enemy with a sophisticated air force, which means it sat on the sidelines during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, leaving its 200 pilots to fly mainly training missions…

When you hear about the F-22, it's always in superlatives: the newest, fastest, stealthiest, highest-flying, most gravity-defying, enemy-killing combat machine in the sky."

Other possible superlatives include the plane's prohibitive maintenance requirements (30 hours of maintenance for each hour of flight, according to a Pentagon report) and an incredibly high number of subcontractors needed to produce the jets (1,000 subcontractors in 40 states). 

While 60 Minutes did a fine job of bringing out this mechanical issue with the F-22, the plane hasn't exactly been considered a champion up to now. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates successfully pushed for the end of production of the F-22 in 2009. The final F-22 rolled off the Lockheed Martin production line in December and was delivered to the Air Force just last week. Gates managed to cut the number of total jets the Air Force purchased by more than half to 187. There was a loud public political battle full of speeches by every politician who depended on defense contractors for campaign donations over the incredibly costly, not-particularly-useful program. But Stahl's reporting fails to provide any of this context in her story, which would have provided viewers some much-needed insight into the utter mess the program has become.

Manufacturer Lockheed Martin has responded by tweeting facts from its own description of the F-22 Raptor from its website. Not exactly a compelling defense.

The Washington Post went into significant detail about the Raptor's problems in this piece from 2009.

But who cares about the F-22, anyway? As Reason.com Managing Editor Tim Cavanaugh wrote in April, the future of military aircraft does not include pilots.

NEXT: John Stossel on Journalism, How He Became Libertarian and His New Book "No They Can't"

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Did the hole, fill it back up, repeat.

  2. F-22’s a gorgeous plane, and it performs well — I saw it a year ago in the Nellis AFB air show, and it was impressive. Nonetheless, it’s quite expensive — and the next-gen fighters from China and Russia are nowhere near impressive enough (nor their air power logistics and training good enough) to justify the cost of the plane.

    Still… definitely a gorgeous machine.

    1. OTOH the Mexican drug cartels are already using submarines. Just sayin.

    2. They look very beautiful inside a hangar.

      But if I owned a cool car, I would rather take a picture of it in front of a row of F-4s.

      1. Is that like a moderately hot chick hanging around a bunch of ugly chicks to make herself look better?

  3. …and an incredibly high number of subcontractors needed to produce the jets (1,000 subcontractors in 40 states).

    From a congressional standpoint, that’s a feature, not a bug.

    1. Damn, you beat me to that one. Most obvious. Joke. Ever.

      1. Not a joke if it’s the truth.

    2. Srsly. What happened to the other 10 states graft?

      1. They get to produce the rest of the plane.

  4. As Reason.com Managing Editor Tim Cavanaugh wrote…

    Tim Cavanaugh? The same man who doesn’t understand the utility of military wargaming? The same man who has no conception of the potential threat of an EM Pulse (natural or man-made)? This should be good…

    the future of military aircraft does not include pilots.

    Yes, because software never get viruses, and network connections never get hacked.

    1. Yes, because software never get viruses, and network connections never get hacked.

      I trust hackable computers more then I trust people (ie pilots).

      Just saying.

      1. NASA once made the same mistake as you.

        Check out #4.

        1. So educate me, did the Soviets get the A-bomb from a hacked computer or from Klaus Fuchs?

          1. Really?

            C’mon son!

            1. Humans and computers can both be tricked.

              Only humans can be bribed, seduced, and have their family threatened.

              Hell any computer security guy will tell you the weak point is always the fleshy one.

              On a side not I saw that the new Call of Duty video game is based on your premise.

              http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x3tedlWs1XY

          2. Because networked computers that could be hacked were totally common back then.

    2. Yeah… that article was pretty st00pid. Extrapolating from trends and tech in counterinsurgency to everything else military is dumb.

  5. Other possible superlatives include the plane’s prohibitive maintenance requirements (30 hours of maintenance for each hour of flight, according to a Pentagon report)

    So, after the first sortie, its basically useless for any kind of extended campaign.

    If I’m a Chinese AF honcho, I’m laughing my ass off. All I have to do is sucker the F-22s into the air with some kind of bluff, then run for home, wait a few hours, and launch my air offensive.

    1. If I’m a Chinese AF honcho, I’m laughing my ass off.

      The part that makes me cry is that China will never attack the US. Billions wasted making a weapon that is designed for a war that will never in a million years ever happen. To bad the American AF honcho is not crying as well.

      1. This I completely agree with you on. China is a bogeyman even more chimerical than…well, I guess maybe the Spanish in 1898?

        1. If you don’t have nightmares every night about a billion high-tech Chinese jets attacking the United States in perfect formation before morphing into giant robots that burn our crops and rape our skyscrapers, if you don’t wake up screaming each night soaked in your own urine from the fear of what those sneaky chinks are up to over there, how can you truly call yourself an American?

          1. …fair enough.

          2. But don’t you dare call them inscrutable.

          3. T-Bone Friedman just came in his pants after reading that.

            Bucketloads.

      2. The part that makes me cry is that China will never attack the US.

        Hard to say never, but its extremely remote.

        I was just throwing in the Chinese to make the point that this thing sounds useless for war-fighting.

        Fighters are there to create air supremacy. That generally requires some kind of extended campaign (unless you’re up against a jumped-up third world country). That kind of maintenance makes this thing hard to use for any kind of extended campaign.

        Let’s say a typical CAP takes 5 hours. That means you have 450 hours of maintenance for every patrol. Even if each of these has a dedicated air crew of 12 people (which sounds absurdly high to me, but I don’t know), then you are looking at 40 hours between patrols. If they work around the clock, you can get this thing in the air two, maybe three times a week.

        1. The real answer is just like it is in every war; they’ll just cut corners. There is so much PMCS that was “officially” required on so much equipment that never got done, or could be completed by a visual inspection in a fraction of the time the manual says it should take. You have to take those things with a massive grain of salt.

        2. That’s sort of why I don’t buy the 30:1 ratio that’s so often cited. Aircrews are NEVER that large, and 1/4 of a man-year per 5-hour CAP? No fucking way.

          1. I mean, aircrews are rarely that large for airframes with which I am familiar.

      3. The part that makes me cry is that China the Chinese military will never attack the US.

    2. Except China’s AF is much more pathetic than ours.

      The only thing that China has going for it is a large and relatively well-equipped and trained army. We would be fools to get into a land war in China, and have no interest in doing do. Their Navy sucks, logistics are poor and strained even in the Tibetan campaign, and their AF is utterly dependent on Russian industry (yeah…)

    3. I’m not an aircraft mechanic (nor do I play one on TV) but I’d be very very surprised to learn flying the plane for an hour means it needs to be grounded for the next 30. 30 hours of maintenance means 30 man-hours of maintenance. With a crew of 12 they can do all kinds of major service and have the plane back in the air in 2.5 hours.

      1. That is still thirty man-hours of maintenance for one man-hour of flight. That makes it a vulnerable shop queen.

        1. Unquestionably. I’m not defending the plane so much as the idea that it can’t be flown more than 3 times a week.

        2. 30 hours sounds like a lot but it’s really not. The very mature platforms that are the F-16 and F-18 require around 20 hours of maintenance per flight hour.

          The F-14 averaged somewhere around 24 hours over it’s lifespan and still served the Navy fairly well at the end of it’s lifespan when it was closer to 50 hours.

          Also keep in mind that those numbers include pre and post flight inspection regimes. The actual direct maintenance requirements, ie actual hours with wrench in hand working, is about 1/3 of the quoted 30 hours.

    4. Aircraft maintenance figures don’t work like you’re implying they do. That figure is an average that includes the maintenance periods scheduled after a certain number of flight hours. If you take the F-22 up for an hour and come back, it doesn’t have to sit for a day plus afterwards every time.

      As an example, for one platform I support, it requires certain minor maintenance and inspections after each mission but then after so many flight hours it has a more intensive maintenance/inspection check.

      When all the maintenance and inspections are averaged out, the end result is that per flight hour the aircraft requires 10 hours of maintenance. Of course mine is a very mature platform thats been around over 30 years and maintenance time generally goes down as the platform matures neglecting airframe fatigue and other “old age” issues. The F-22 is getting better as it’s retrofitted with new materials and processes as well…

  6. and an incredibly high number of subcontractors needed to produce the jets (1,000 subcontractors in 40 states).

    Last I checked the division of labor was proven to be a good thing….and has been for over 200 years.

    1. Because, you know, congress totally allowed those funds to be allocated amongst 40 fucking different states based on efficiency, and not pork-laden rent-seeking.

      1. That takes some subtext.

        The line pissed me off because the actual text is throwing turds at the Adam Smith for no good reason.

        1. Also i think you are wrong. The problem with the plane is it is useless weapon for an impossible war….and apparently it sucks as well.

          If it was a useful weapon for a possible war it still would have taken 1000s of subcontractors just like any piece of technology built today. How many subcontractors built your car? Your smart phone? The computer you are reading this on?

          My guess it is in the 1000s as well…and that is a good thing.

          1. Well here we were, all about to kiss and make up, and then you trot this out.

            Do you really think all of those are necessary from a stricly production efficiency standpoint? Do you not think that in the course of the notoriously corrupt procurement procedure, lots of little additions in different states were tacked on in order to cement votes?

            And hopefully the parts of my car (I guess unless it’s GM) and my phone weren’t being built by people paid with taxpayer dollars.

            1. I know 40 subcontractors in 40 states would be less efficient then 1000 subcontractors in 40 states.

              Is there political graft in both scenarios?

              Yup.

              If not to elbow Adam Smith in the eye what is your point again?

              1. I do think we should both take a step back because RC is quite correct below.

                Would you be singing the praises of Adam Smith if each t-shirt was made by 1 million subcontractors who each spun a single thread? Division of labor is a means to an end, not an end in itself. Neither of us really has any way to determine if this was the best use of resources or not.

                That having been said, since it’s the DoD and congress, I’m going to go with, “not”.

                1. Neither of us really has any way to determine if this was the best use of resources or not.

                  The US government is making a fighter jet.

                  We can assume the whole thing is a monstrous boondoggle….but the fact that 1000 subcontractors is being used proves nothing.

                  This is a far more compelling argument:

                  Gates managed to cut the number of total jets the Air Force purchased by more than half to 187. There was a loud public political battle full of speeches by every politician who depended on defense contractors for campaign donations over the incredibly costly, not-particularly-useful program.

          2. The definition of subcontractor is very squishy. You could extend it out to all the farmers who grow food eaten by employees of the firms, etc.

            So, its impossible to say, without some kind of definition.

        2. I understand your point now, but I suppose the author assumed anyone reading this blog would already have that subtext firmly in mind.

    2. But jobs should be counted as a cost of a program, not a bonus.

      1. I bet more then a 1000 sub-contractors built the computer you are reading this on.

        Why is the Division of Labor efficient for your PC but not for fighter jets?

        Hell maybe you liked Ma Bell…who knows.

        1. The false assumption here is the division of labor is taking place for efficiency purposes because that’s why it happens in the private market.

          1. So you honestly think one contractor could not only build a modern fighter jet but do so more cheaply then 1000 subcontractors.

            Give me a fucking break.

            1. Strawman much? Did Scott say one, single contractor? Or did you just pull that out of your ass?

              Believe it or not, numbers exist between 1 and 1,000. And the gov’t probably isn’t making the calculation based on efficiency. Your faith in DoD procurement is disturbing.

              1. Strawman much?

                Pick any number below 1000 then.

                The argument still stands.

                It takes a shit load of subcontractors to even build any peice of technology.

                Not only is the division of labor more efficient but lets be honest a thing like modern fighter jet cannot even be made without it.

                The fact is that 1000 subcontractors tells us nothing about how much political graft is going on.

                By mentioning it in the article Scott Shackford is taking a pot shot at Adam smith for no good reason.

            2. What, those are the only choices?

              1. So what is the magical number of subcontractors that would prevent it from being mentioned in your article?

        2. Precisely as Scott says, better than I put it up above.

        3. I bet more then a 1000 sub-contractors built the computer you are reading this on.

          Really? I bet that more than 100,000,000 sub-contractors built this computer!

          Your equation of Adam Smith and numerous government contractors is pathetic, dude. It could be a result of the most efficient division of labor a’la Smith except for one thing. Efficiency is not the most important factor in military appropriations.

          The odds that this is all simply an efficient division of labor instead of political bullshit are exactly zero.

          1. Efficiency is not the most important factor in military appropriations.

            One would assume that is why it is 1000 subcontractors in 40 states rather then 1000 subcontractors world wide.

            Anyway you tell me what is the magical number of subcontractors that would not be “political bullshit”?

            No one knows that number, and that is why the 1000 subcontractors should not have been mentioned.

            I agree that there is political bullshit here but the 1000 subcontractors does not tell us that one way or another.

  7. Hm. Having a fleet of drone aircraft means the enemy spends its effort on decrypting SHA-256 and patching its way into commlinks.

  8. But who cares about the F-22, anyway? As Reason.com Managing Editor Tim Cavanaugh wrote in April, the future of military aircraft does not include pilots.

    But I am willing to bet it still includes most of those 1000 sub-contractors in 40 states.

  9. I have to admit, I would’ve rolled the F-22’s to completion at ~350 or so, and tanked the F-35 program. The F-22 was already in series production, and it is superior aircraft to the F-35.

    Cavanaugh talking about ‘fighters becoming obsolete’ etc. rings hollow. He’s the Nazi Luftwaffe guy who sends Stukas (Predators) in without fighter-cover and wonders why noone come back.

    Also, the ‘USA hasn’t fought a war against anyone with an Air Force’ is a byproduct of USA’s air dominance, not a coincidence. In every war since end of WWII the outfit flying US aircraft employing US tactics is having a bad day if they’re killing twice as many as they lose.

    The Israelis embodied that superiority in 1982 when they used shiny brand new F-15’s to shoot down the Syrian Air Force – and unlike 1967 they let the Syrian Air Force take off first – without losing a single plane.

    Those aircraft are thirty years old now, and there is no viable replacement past two-hundred F-22’s still in politically drawn-out debugging mode. Very unfortunate.

    1. Yes. Take every complaint about the F-22 and double it for the F-35.

      They spent the R&D for the F-22, the per-unit cost was relatively cheap after that.

      Every plane being replaced by the F-35 could be replaced by upgraded F-15’s far less money.

      1. Word.

  10. How do I share this on Facebook without having to post Reason’s absurdly long URLs?

    1. Subcontractors.

  11. Seems like someone is trying to cover up a major design flaw. It should be very easy to have in-flight monitoring of the air the pilots breath. Could it be the problem cannot be fixed?

  12. I recall that JAG did an episode about oxygen around twenty years ago. Did anyone from the chair force even pay attention?

  13. I hope that future does not include unmanned long range strategic bombers.

    1. Wouldn’t those just be ICBM’S?

    2. I don’t know about the future but in the present a Tomahawk cruise missile has a range of 1500 miles.

  14. This strange framing introduces last night’s otherwise excellent interview with two Air Force Raptor pilots-turned-whistleblowers who have come forward to warn of this particular set of dangers with the jet.

    These are always tough calls. This isn’t the first time the media has interviewed “whistleblowing” servicemen claiming that this or that platform was a deathtrap/plagued with problems etc. I believe 60 minutes did this same thing on the Apache helicopter back in the 90s, and a rash of reports came out before Gulf War I about how every single one that would go into combat would spontaneously assplode leaving the U.S. of A. vulnerable to an Iraqi invasion… which had the 4th largest army in the world!

    In fact, the media was full of these stories, which got very, very quiet after militarily, we dispatched pretty much every piece of Iraqi military hardware larger than a breadbox in the first 100 hours of the war.

    Complicated platforms are complicated. I’d be curious to see how the Raptor’s technical difficulties fared against a comparable platform that is widely accepted as “effective”.

    1. This isn’t the first time the media has interviewed “whistleblowing” servicemen claiming that this or that platform was a deathtrap/plagued with problems etc.

      The same thing happened after the V-22 crash at Marana–and the whistleblower was exactly right. The Lt Col that told the maintainers to falsify the maintenance records was canned as a result of the 60 Minutees piece. The whole history of that piece of shit plane is a testament to how addicted the military is to shiny objects over functionality.

      The Osprey’s critics have tried to label it a death-trap, but that’s not the real issue with the V-22–the real issue is that it’s a hangar queen with parts that are wearing out faster than Bell-Boeing expected (big surprise). It has mission-capable rates in the basement, costs over $100 million apiece for the CV-22 version when Bell-Boeing was promising it initially for about $40 million, and will ultimately have far lower numbers than originally promised, which will put that much more of a maintenance burden on the finished inventory as small-fleet dynamics kick in.

      1. I thought most of the problems with Ospreys was pilot error. More specifically, error in selecting fixed wing pilots rather than rotary wing pilots to fly what is essentially a helicopter. Didn’t most of the crashes happen during hover or vertical flight?

        1. No, most of the problems with the Ospreys are mechanical in nature. They fly fine, when they actually get in the air, and the crashes have been attributed to pilot error. What makes them such dogs is the aircraft configuration–it’s practically designed to suck in dirt and dust, which shreds the hydraulics and coats the turbines, which means more frequent engine changes. Parts are wearing out faster than the contractors expected, and the phase inspection schedule is much more intensive, which means more downtime. If you have a small fleet of planes, all those factors combine to create a waterfall effect–one plane goes down for maintenance, the others are used more often, increasing the frequency of the phase inspections and parts breaking down of those planes, etc. For a plane that costs $100 million apiece, its maintenance statistics are embarrassing. That’s why the Marines got in trouble with 60 Minutes back in 2000 when that Lt Col told his guys to falsify the maintenance records–the Marines were so desperate to get the plane approved that their commanders felt the need to basically lie about how reliable the plane was.

    2. Complicated platforms are complicated.

      Yeah, and sometimes they’re complicated for no damn good reason other than it gives Generals a hard-on.

    3. Exactly what do you expect when the people reporting have no idea how the engineering development process works.

      “Complicated platforms are complicated. I’d be curious to see how the Raptor’s technical difficulties fared against a comparable platform that is widely accepted as “effective”.”

      Every major weapons platform developed in the last 50 years has had fairly significant issues upon introduction. We engineers are good but we aren’t perfect so things slip through the cracks. When you compare what we do here in the US with whats done in other parts of the world though, we look mighty good because their stuff doesn’t even begin to attain capabilities they intend it to…

  15. OK, I never thought about it like that and it does make a LOT of sense dude.

    http://www.Better-Privacy.tk

  16. I remember when I was following the fly-off competition between the YF-22 and YF-23 in Aviation Week (among other sources). this was the first major aircraft program that really started to sour me on Lockheed – a feeling that was later justified by their abysmal performance during the Venturestar program. the choice of the F-22 over the F-23 also tinted my view of the Air Force, as in my view, they had deliberately chosen the inferior, more expensive aircraft.

    seems time has proven those feelings true. I wonder if any in the Air Force share my opinion

    1. If you go to WPAFB Museum they have YF-23 in the X hangar you can walk up to and kick the tires. Still has engineer’s graffiti in the front wheel-well its so pristine.

      Its all still in one piece too, hasn’t been de-commed or anything. Couple weeks turning wrenches and checkouts and you could probably fly it away.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.