F-22s Left Behind at Tyndall During Hurricane Likely Damaged: Air Force

A hangar at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, shows damage from Hurricane Michael on Oct. 11, 2018. David Goldman/AP
A hangar at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, shows damage from Hurricane Michael on Oct. 11, 2018. David Goldman/AP

The U.S. Air Force anticipates that a number of F-22 Raptors left behind at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, during Hurricane Michael were damaged by the storm, an official said Friday.

"A number of aircraft were left behind in hangars due to maintenance or safety reasons, and all of those hangars are damaged," Air Force spokeswoman Ann Stefanek said in a statement. "We anticipate the aircraft parked inside may be damaged as well, but we won't know the extent until our crews can safely enter those hangars and make an assessment."

Neither the extent of the damage nor how many fighters were left behind was disclosed.

Officials also did not describe what maintenance was taking place that led officials to leave the jets at Tyndall instead of moving them to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, where other F-22s from the 325th Fighter Wing moved earlier this week.

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The damage could hamper operations for the already dwindling Raptor fleet as the Defense Department aims to restore its fighter readiness rates.

While some aircraft have come out of active status for testing purposes, the Air Force has 183 of the Lockheed Martin Corp.-made F-22s in its inventory today. More than 160 belong to active-duty units; the remainder are with Air National Guard elements. Four aircraft were lost or severely damaged between 2004 and 2012.

The Pentagon last estimated the F-22 unit cost at $139 million in 2009, roughly $163 million in today's money. The last F-22 was delivered in 2011. But in a classified report submitted to Congress last year, the Air Force estimated it would cost "$206 million to $216 million per aircraft" should it ever want to restart the production line for newer, more advanced F-22s.

The DoD said that would amount to approximately "$50 billion to procure 194 additional F-22s."

Roughly 120 fifth-generation stealth Raptors are combat-coded, or authorized to perform in wartime operations, at any given time. But the platform's mission-capable rate has decreased over the years.

According to Defense News' fiscal 2017 statistics, F-22s had a 49.01 percent mission-capable rate, meaning less than half were flyable at any given time. In 2014, more than three-quarters of F-22s were deemed mission capable.

The Pentagon wants to increase readiness rates for the F-22, F-16, F-35 and F/A-18 to 80 percent by next September -- a 31 percent bump for the Raptor alone.

In July, the Government Accountability Office said the F-22 is frequently underutilized, mainly due to maintenance challenges and fewer opportunities for pilot training, as well as the fleet's inefficient organizational structure.

Just this week, an F-22 at Alaska's Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson made an emergency landing on a base runway. Photos showed the jet, from the 3rd Wing, leaning on its left side, which the Air Force said was the result of a landing gear malfunction.

The latest incident comes months after an F-22, also assigned to JBER's 3rd Wing, experienced engine failure April 6 during a routine training flight at Tyndall. Days preceding the engine failure, another F-22 experienced a belly skid at Naval Air Station Fallon, Nevada.

-- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at oriana.pawlyk@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @Oriana0214.

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