Air Force Link: First Raptor squadron announced

The 27th Fighter Squadron at Langley Air Force Base in Virginia will be the first to operate the new F/A-22 Raptor. Two other squadrons at the base will follow suit. As far as I’m concerned, that’s enough for now. 24 per squadron plus a few spares gets us about 90 planes. That’s more air force than the rest of the world flies, combined. And almost as expensive.

In a comment to an earlier post, KTLA notes

If we were to field only one squadron of them, would the small number of planes dramatically increase the per plane maintenance cost? I don’t know enough about Air Force costs and logistics to say, but if it doesn’t maybe that’s the answer. That way we can keep the technology in service, which could help us prepare for challenges we may face in fielding future aircraft.

I’ve brought this up in the past, but a quick search indicates that I’ve never said so on MO. I don’t have the answer about how much the operational cost increases for flying only one squadron, but I’m sure it’s pretty significant. And I agree completely that there is a lot to be learned by flying these machines for a while. “Skipping” a generation may sound good in theory, but it doesn’t seem terribly sound to me. And with all the developmental cost already paid, it would by silly to abandon it just as it nears operational service. At this point we HAVE to fly some of these things. The question is how many. Buckethead comments:

We should continue the research, continue to develop new fighters – we need to keep our edge – but we should only be buying large numbers of “good enough” fighters like the F35.

With a cost of around $200 million per unit, these birds are pretty expensive planes considering that most of our likely enemies in the coming years don’t have much in the way of air forces. And even Russian-built or -designed planes flown by Russian or Chinese pilots aren’t likely to be a match for any of our current planes flown by any of our pilots. Our men are just that much better, on average, than those of our likely enemies. And the “good enough” F-35 outclasses anything likely to be flying soon anywhere else.

KTLA also comments

That table [referenced in the earlier post] says there were 370 Raptors “made”. Is this the projected number? How many have been produced? Have any been delivered?

This story in Air Force Link says the first operational F-22 was delivered to the Raptor training squadron on September 29th. And according to this

Under the current Department of Defense cost cap of $43 billion, the Air Force expects to procure 276 aircraft, although the service needs 381 Raptors to meet its expeditionary requirements.

The limiting factor is cost and not a certain number of units. While this seems to make fiscal sense, there’s also the fact that the manufacturer (Boeing, Lockheed/Martin, Pratt/Whitney, and the most of the rest of the Military-Industrial Complex) gets the full contract value regardless of the number of planes built. Maybe there will be a mail-in rebate offer, or a special discount code if we order online or something. There are 22 planes in next year’s budget for a total of $3.6 billion. The 27th Fighter Squadron expects to be fully operational some time in 2005.

Click the pic for an awesome F/A-22 photo gallery.