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House Lawmakers Want Air Force to Study Restarting F-22 Production

Republicans on a key defense committee in the U.S. House of Representatives want the Air Force to study the cost of restarting production of the F-22 fighter jet.

The House Armed Services Committee’s Tactical Air and Land Forces Subcommittee, headed by Rep. Mike Turner, a Republican from Ohio, on Tuesday proposed legislation that would direct Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James "to conduct a comprehensive assessment and study of the costs associated with resuming production of F-22 aircraft," according to a copy of the bill posted online.

Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates in 2009 had famously led the charge to stop production of the F-22 Raptor, a fifth-generation stealth fighter made by Lockheed Martin Corp., after 187 aircraft were produced at a cost of $67 billion. (The last aircraft was delivered in 2012.)

In his 2014 memoirs, "Duty," Gates noted that former Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. T. Michael Moseley and former Air Force Secretary Michael Wynne had repeatedly lobbied him to support funding for a new stealth bomber or more F-22s, even though at the time the U.S. was engaged in irregular warfare in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"Nearly every time Moseley and Air Force Secretary Mike Wynne came to see me, it was about a new bomber or more F-22s," he wrote. "Both were important capabilities for the future, but neither would play any part in the wars we were already in."

Lawmakers and Pentagon officials have since noted with alarm the improving air defenses of countries such as Russia and China.

Last fall, Gen. Frank Gorenc, the Air Force’s commander in Europe, said Russia’s development of new surface-to-air missile systems and other air defenses has "closed the gap" between U.S. air superiority.

Russia in recent years has deployed an increasing number of higher quality air defense systems, particularly in and around Kaliningrad and Crimea to limit the ability of U.S. and NATO aircraft to enter its airspace, according to Air Force Gen. Frank Gorenc, the service's European commander.

"I don't think it's controversial to say that they've closed the gap in capability -- not just in Europe, everywhere," he said during a Sept. 15 speech at the Air and Space Conference, held near Washington, D.C., and organized by the Air Force Association.

The Russians have multiple surface-to-air missiles systems designed to target high-altitude aircraft, from the S-400, arguably the most advanced such system in the world, to the S-75A Dvina, which in 1960 was employed to shoot down an American-made U-2 spy plane as it traveled over Soviet airspace.

China, meanwhile, has recently deployed fighter jets -- reportedly 16 Shenyang J-11 advanced fighter aircraft -- and HQ-9 surface-to-air missile batteries to Woody Island in the South China Sea as part of an ongoing military buildup there.

"In light of growing threats to U.S. air superiority as a result of adversaries closing the technology gap and increasing demand from allies and partners for highperformance, multi-role aircraft to meet evolving and worsening global security threats, the committee believes that such proposals are worthy of further exploration," the House Republicans wrote in the proposed legislation.

The language also notes that Air Combat Command has a stated requirement for 381 F-22s and that the initial program objective called for producing a total of 749 aircraft.

The bill would require James to review anticipated future air superiority capacity and capability requirements, estimated costs to restart F-22 production, factors impacting such costs, historical lessons from past aircraft production restarts, and any other matters the secretary deems relevant, according to the proposal.

A report on the findings would be due to lawmakers by Jan. 1.

The proposal, part of the annual defense authorization legislation, is far from becoming reality. Senators on the counterpart panel would need to support the measure -- as would both chambers and the president -- before the secretary would be required to carry it out.

-- Brendan McGarry can be reached at brendan.mcgarry@military.com. Follow him on Twitter at @Brendan_McGarry.

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