Sustainment Challenge?

Testifying before the Senate Armed Services airland subcommittee Tuesday, Lt. Gen. Mark Shackelford, the Air Force’s military acquisition deputy, raised questions about long-term sustainment of an F-22 fleet comprising only 187 aircraft. (The actual number, as of today, will be 186 F-22s, factoring the one Raptor lost in a crash. Smaller than the 243 military requirement number recently cited by Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz, and much smaller than the original requirement for 381. Asked by Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) about the decision to halt F-22 procurement at 187, Shackelford said he believes that that number is “sufficient” for the type of threats Defense Secretary Robert Gates anticipates the US will face in the near future. If the Air Force had a concern about the fleet, Shackelford said it would be in the area of sustainment. While 187 F-22s will provide excellent combat capability, keeping them flying and mission-capable could become more complicated at some point. “To sustain that fleet over a long period of time may become a challenge,” he told the panel, without elaborating. Last month Schwartz did shed some light on this issue, telling the full Senate Armed Services Committee May 16 that “small-fleet dynamics are a significant issue.” He said, for example, the Air Force “might have to use combat-coded airplanes to do training as well,” as opposed to dedicated Raptors. This, he noted, “is not as ideal as being able to rely on a constant throughput for training,” but it is one of “the realities of managing a smaller fleet.” At that same hearing, Schwartz characterized the projected Raptor fleet size as a moderate- to high-risk force.