Murphy's Law: Why F-22s Are Losers



July 21, 2009: The current battle in Congress and the Pentagon, over whether to build more F-22s, has depicted the F-22 as a too expensive and too difficult to maintain. Among the allegations were the fact that it currently costs (for maintenance and operating expenses) $44,000 an hour to operate the F-22, versus $30,000 an hour for the F-15 (which the F-22 was originally designed to replace). Two facts that got left out of the debate were that many of the operating expenses for the F-22 are start up costs (buying maintenance equipment and base facilities). Take out those costs, and it's $19,000 per flight hour for the F-22, and $17,000 an hour for the F-15 (which has been around for over a decade, and long since paid for much of the maintenance equipment and basing costs). The other factor is also related to time. As aircraft become more mature, they require fewer hours to maintain. When an aircraft gets very old, the maintenance hours increase again. This also happens if you add more complex equipment to the aircraft.

F-22 advocates also point out that, between 2008 and 2009, direct maintenance man hours per flight hour for the F-22 went from 18.1 to 10.5. The design goal for the F-22 was 12 man hours. Although much is said of the hassles encountered maintaining the radar absorbent skin of the F-22, only a third of the maintenance hours are devoted to stealth features, which includes the skin. The F-22 was accused of having a sub-system failure every 1.7 hours. But the ultimate goal here is 3 hours, and the F-22 is on track to meet that goal once the F-22 fleet has accumulated 100,000 flight hours.

The F-22 is still moving down the maturity cost curve (getting more reliable and cheaper to maintain as it accumulates more flight hours), and doing so on schedule. Comparing the F-22 in this phase of its life, to the fully mature F-15, is inaccurate. In fact, the history of fighter development over the last sixty years shows aircraft getting more expensive, but more capable and reliable. The problem with the F-22 is that it is way ahead in performance, and cost. The argument against the F-22 is that it provides more performance than the air force can afford. Now, when it comes to performance, fighter pilots feel "too much ain't enough." But to the air force commanders who must plan and conduct the battles and campaigns, too much performance in too few aircraft can be a losing proposition.


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