Tactical Aircraft:

Air Force Still Needs Business Case to Support F/A-22 Quantities and Increased Capabilities

GAO-05-304: Published: Mar 15, 2005. Publicly Released: Mar 15, 2005.

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The Air Force is preparing a modernization plan that expands the capabilities of the F/A-22, which was first designed to serve as an air-to-air fighter aircraft with very limited ability to strike targets on the ground. The Air Force now intends to transform it by adding robust air-to-ground capabilities to attack enemy ground threats and by adding onboard intelligence data gathering capabilities. After the recent budget cut, DOD estimates F/A-22 cost at $63.8 billion for 178 aircraft. It has been in development for more than 19 years, a decade longer than originally envisioned. In the face of significant cost and schedule overruns, Congress mandates that GAO annually assess the F/A-22 program. In this report, GAO addresses (1) the Air Force's business case for the F/A-22 modernization plan and (2) the recently completed initial operational test and evaluation.

The Air Force has yet to produce a business case for the next-generation F/A-22. Much has changed in the years since the F/A-22 program began nearly 2 decades ago--adversarial threats against U.S. aircraft have evolved, and a plan to modernize the F/A-22 significantly different than the original aircraft is in progress. A DOD cost estimate in 2003 projected the Air Force's modernization plan to cost $11.7 billion through 2018. A December 2004 budget decision reduced procurement funding and quantities but did not cut funding for modernization. The decision to terminate procurement after fiscal year 2008 places the current modernization plan in doubt as key ground attack and intelligence-gathering enhancements had been slated for aircraft now eliminated from the program. Without a new business case for adding a more robust ground attack capability and for new intelligence missions, the Air Force may be at a disadvantage when the time comes to justify the modernization plan in the face of future budget constraints. DOD is set to conduct the 2005 Quadrennial Defense Review to weigh the merits of transformational priorities and investments to determine if the best choices are being made to meet military needs within available funding levels. This may further influence an F/A-22 business case. The F/A-22 program recently underwent initial operational testing, but testing did not include the air-to-ground missions that the Air Force envisions for the aircraft. The Air Force does not expect to conduct testing of these capabilities until after a decision is made to enter full-rate production. Although a final test report was not available for our review, Air Force officials told us that the F/A-22 was extremely effective in performing its air-to-air missions. Evaluation results of capabilities needed to sustain combat operations and maintain aircraft were not as favorable. Additional testing will be required to assess corrective actions for deficiencies identified and to evaluate new ground attack and intelligence-gathering capabilities added by the modernization program.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In April 2009, the Secretary of Defense stated that based on recommendations from the Secretary of the Air Force and Chief of Staff of the Air Force, 187 F-22s are sufficient to meet current requirements. However, Congress continues to debate the number of F-22s that will be procured.

    Recommendation: Because of evolving threats against the United States; pending changes in U.S. defense plans; the lack of clarity regarding F/A-22 required capabilities, quantities, and resources; the recent budget decision; and upcoming reviews on joint air capabilities, the Secretary of Defense should complete a new business case that determines the continued need for the F/A-22 and that addresses impacts of the recent budget decision on the need for and cost of future developmental activities, long-term logistical support and basing decisions, and the ability to take advantage of cost reduction efforts, such as multiyear contracting and productivity improvement.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In April 2009, the Secretary of Defense stated that based on recommendations from the Secretary of the Air Force and Chief of Staff of the Air Force, 187 F-22s are sufficient to meet current requirements. However, Congress continues to debate the number of F-22s that will be procured.

    Recommendation: Because of evolving threats against the United States; pending changes in U.S. defense plans; the lack of clarity regarding F/A-22 required capabilities, quantities, and resources; the recent budget decision; and upcoming reviews on joint air capabilities, the Secretary of Defense should complete a new business case that determines the continued need for the F/A-22 and that provides evidence that the planned quantity and capabilities are affordable within current and projected budgets and the statutory funding limitation.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In April 2009, the Secretary of Defense stated that based on recommendations from the Secretary of the Air Force and Chief of Staff of the Air Force, 187 F-22s are sufficient to meet current requirements. However, Congress continues to debate the number of F-22s that will be procured.

    Recommendation: Because of evolving threats against the United States; pending changes in U.S. defense plans; the lack of clarity regarding F/A-22 required capabilities, quantities, and resources; the recent budget decision; and upcoming reviews on joint air capabilities, the Secretary of Defense should complete a new business case that determines the continued need for the F/A-22 and that justifies the quantity of F/A-22 aircraft needed to satisfy requirements for air-to-air and air-to-ground missions.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In April 2009, the Secretary of Defense stated that based on recommendations from the Secretary of the Air Force and Chief of Staff of the Air Force, 187 F-22s are sufficient to meet current requirements. However, Congress continues to debate the number of F-22s that will be procured.

    Recommendation: Because of evolving threats against the United States; pending changes in U.S. defense plans; the lack of clarity regarding F/A-22 required capabilities, quantities, and resources; the recent budget decision; and upcoming reviews on joint air capabilities, the Secretary of Defense should complete a new business case that determines the continued need for the F/A-22 and that justifies the F/A-22's expanded air-to-ground capabilities based on an assessment of alternatives to include both operational assets and planned future weapon systems.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In April 2009, the Secretary of Defense stated that based on recommendations from the Secretary of the Air Force and Chief of Staff of the Air Force, 187 F-22s are sufficient to meet current requirements. However, Congress continues to debate the number of F-22s that will be procured.

    Recommendation: Because of evolving threats against the United States; pending changes in U.S. defense plans; the lack of clarity regarding F/A-22 required capabilities, quantities, and resources; the recent budget decision; and upcoming reviews on joint air capabilities, the Secretary of Defense should complete a new business case that determines the continued need for the F/A-22 and that justifies the need for investments for a new computer architecture and avionics processor, and F/A-22 infrastructure deficiencies.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

 

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