Air Force Eyes About 60 More F-22s

So says Adm. Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. During a Wednesday press briefing in the Pentagon, Mullen said Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz “has talked about a number that is another . . . 60 or so more” than the current 183-aircraft program of record. While we know the Air Force leadership is mulling how many more F-22s it wants, the service hasn’t yet publicly announced a new inventory goal. In fact, in a statement provided yesterday to the Daily Report, Air Force Secretary Michael Donley said: “The Air Force leadership is reviewing whether to propose a change to the current F-22 program of record. No decisions have been made, and the Air Force leadership will be prepared to discuss this with incoming transition officials at the appropriate time.” The service’s on-the-books requirement still stands at 381. Schwartz, for his part, has said publicly 183 is a number that is too low, while 381 is too high. Congress has mandated that the new Administration inform it by March 1, 2009, whether it intends to keep the F-22 production line going beyond Lot 9 and the 183 aircraft already ordered. While the Office of the Secretary of Defense is allowing the Air Force to buy four more —giving it, at least, 187 in total—it has otherwise punted the issue to the new Administration. The decision by Defense Secretary Robert Gates to stay on under Obama may not bode well for the F-22. However, although Mullen expressed concern Wednesday that the F-22 is “such an expensive system,” he appeared to be open to the idea of more F-22s. He said: “In the aviation world our future is in the [F-35] Joint Strike Fighter, but the Joint Strike Fighter is a new system. New systems usually struggle, you know, meeting exact deadlines.” As a result, he said it’s “very important” to have a capability to bridge the gap to the next system. (For more on the merits of extending F-22 production, read Going Head-to-Head.)