Remember the F-22? After years of back and forth over its cost and utility, Congress voted in 2009 to cease additional procurement of the plane. Those that were purchased already have done little more than gather rust since their introduction into the Air Force in 2005.
Early this month, though, the aircraft were reportedly readied for action, just in case, and Gen Norton Schwartz, USAF chief of staff, told Congress that he expected the F-22s to be employed in what was still a hypothetical operation in Libya. Certainly, if the planes have feelings their lonely hearts were aflutter at the possibility of their first big trip into the fray.
It was not to be, however. Schwartz, reporting again to Congress, said yesterday that the reason F-22 fighters have not been used to attack air defenses or counter Libyan jets is because they’re not based in the region.
Well, okay… benefit of the doubt… but there could be some other reasons, as well.
Stephen Trimble speculates that this particular battle may have come a bit too early for the Raptor:
True, the F-22 fleet can drop two joint direct attack munitions or eight small diameter bombs. However, six years after declaring initial operational capability, the F-22 is still waiting for a radar that picks up targets on the ground. The air-to-ground mode for the Northrop Grumman APG-77 radar is nearing the end of a long testing phase, and retrofits for the fleet should start at the end of this year. Until then, the F-22’s primary targeting sensor is effectively blind to ground targets after the aircraft takes off.
In a statement that seems to reinforce Trimble’s speculation, Air Force Secretary Michael Donley noted yesterday that the F-22 has “some air-to-ground capability, though it is optimized for air-to-air engagements.” This would render the plane of little use in Libya, where the vast majority of operations have been focused on air-to-ground strikes. The F-15E, by comparison, has the ability to drop laser-guided bombs on moving ground targets.
According to DoD Buzz, the U.S.’ F-16, F-15E, F/A-18G, AV-8B and A-10, Britain’s Eurofighter Typhoon and Tornado, and France’s Rafale and Mirage have appeared in Libya so far. They are joined by B-2 Stealth bombers, B-1 Lancers, and AC-130 gunships, as well as a variety of intelligence and command and control planes.