Production of the expensive, but exquisite, F-22 comes to an end in an era of austerity
With the final rolling off 's assembly line last week, the Marietta, Ga., facility is now focusing its efforts on making its and C-5M operations more efficient.
The Raptor business is not dead, though. A massive program, once estimated to cost as much as $8 billion to modify the twin-engine stealthy fighters, is under way and delivering through the next several years.
The $67 billion F-22 program was the Air Force's most ambitious fighter project to date. While this led to the fielding of a revolutionary capability—craftily dubbed the “fifth-generation” fighter capability by Lockheed Martin's marketing officials when it was eyed for termination over less-expensive legacy models—it also embodied an ethos in the Air Force to pursue high technology at all cost.
Civil and military onlookers suggest that this ambition took on a life of its own and eventually became a weakness. This came to head in June 2008 when then-Chief of Staff Gen. T. Michael Moseley and then-USAF Secretary Michael Wynne were asked by then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates to resign following multiple missteps, including unauthorized lobbying by the Air Force to buy more F-22s than approved by Gates.
After 20 years of design and production, what began as an effort to buy 650 fighters capable of evading former Soviet radar defenses to escort bombers to targets there came to an end with Raptor 195 rolling out of the final assembly facility Dec. 13—22 years after the Berlin Wall came down. The USAF has purchased 187 combatwith eight test models.
The F-22's tooling, which once covered 250,000 sq. ft. of the plant and employed, at its peak, 900 people, will now be dismantled for storage; 150 workers remain dedicated to final checkout and testing of the last Raptor. Delivery to the Air Force, its only customer since the U.S. forbade international sales, is slated for next year.
Tooling from Lockheed's F-22 work in Fort Worth and's wing and aft-fuselage facility in Seattle has been categorized and put in storage at the Sierra Army Depot in California, says Jeff Babione, vice president and general manager of the F-22 program. The remainder of the tooling in Marietta will be sent to California by the end of next year.
In preparing the tooling for storage, Babione says Lockheed was able for the first time to use multimedia resources. The goal is that future workers who need to pull items out of storage to craft a part will have videos of today's line workers' methods for reference.
This has already been put to the test. An inlet part for a Block 20 aircraft at Tyndall AFB, Fla., needed to be replaced though there was no spare requirement for it. Parts were located in storage and electronic book references helped workers to craft the item, Babione says.
Once the F-22 tooling in Marietta is stored, the space will be dedicated to parts to support growing C-130J production—the rate has recently increased to 36 per year—as well as the C-5M retrofit line. “The current flow is not optimum for those two lines,” Babione says, adding that travel time for tasks on the production floor are expected to decrease once the new parts storage area is established.
Though the company has been ramping down employees and investment on the F-22 since thedecided in 2009 to end its purchases, there is still some overhead from the program that will be absorbed by other programs in Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Systems, including the C-130J, C-5M and F-35. “They will all see an increase in their rates because of the loss of the work in this factory,” Babione says.
Overhead has been an issue of interest for senior Pentagon officials as they negotiate new contracts against the backdrop of potentially draconian spending cuts to defense. Earlier this month, Brett Lambert, industrial policy chief at the Pentagon, noted that some contractors still must shrink their physical footprints for savings.
Lockheed officials contend that the new parts storage area will prove valuable to the customer by providing efficiencies in assembling the airlifters.
Meanwhile, the company is continuing work on modification packages for the Raptor. The first, increment 3.1, will be fielded in the next two years and is designed to use the active, electronically scanned array radar to provide mapping from “extremely long ranges,” and allow for improved autonomy to attack ground targets with the new 250-lb. Small-Diameter Bomb. Also included are some undisclosed electronic protection systems.
Two smaller updates—4 and 5—designed forand launches, respectively, are slated to be finished around 2015.
The next major increment—3.2—will include the long-awaited integration of Link 16 onto the F-22 to finally allow it to communicate with legacy fighters. It will also include improvements by using the onboard F-22 sensor suite for enhanced guidance of the AIM-120D and AIM-9X.
The Air Force is also eyeing use of an automatic ground collision-avoidance system on the F-22, although a contract has not yet been negotiated for that work.
The price of Raptor 195 is $152 million, up from roughly $300 million in then-year dollars for the first aircraft, including engines but not the amortized cost of development.