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Distance Kept Lockheed F-22 Out of Libya Action, Schwartz Says

Lockheed Martin Corp. (LMT) F-22 fighters haven’t been used over Libya to attack air defenses or counter Libyan jets because they’re not based in the region, U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff Norton Schwartz said.

“Had the F-22 been stationed in Europe, in proximity and therefore more available, it undoubtedly would have been used,” Schwartz told the Senate defense appropriations subcommittee today. Because the Libya operation “came together fairly rapidly, the judgment was made to apply the various resources we had in close proximity.”

F-22 jets, the most advanced and expensive fighters in the U.S. arsenal, are based in Virginia, New Mexico, California, Florida, Alaska and Hawaii, Air Force Major Chad Steffey, a spokesman, said in an e-mail.

Trade newspapers and blogs have quoted private analysts, such as Loren Thompson of the Arlington, Virginia-based Lexington Institute, who have said that the F-22 likely was kept out of the fight because its data links don’t communicate with other warplanes and it has a limited ground-attack capability.

“The fact the F-22 did not perform in this particular mission” wasn’t a negative reflection on its usefulness, Schwartz said. “It was an expedient judgment, putting the plan together and executing on a very rapid timeline.”

Air Force Secretary Michael Donley told lawmakers the aircraft has “some air-to-ground capability, though it is optimized for air-to-air engagements.”

Less Air-to-Ground Capability

“The air-to-ground capability is somewhat limited” compared with that of the F-15E fighter-bombers used over Libya, he said. The F-15E, unlike the F-22, has a capability to drop laser-guided bombs on moving ground targets. The F-22 carries two Global Positioning System satellite-guided Joint Direct Attack Munitions for fixed targets.

Unlike the F-15E, the F-22 has a radar-evading stealth design. “Had they been required, we would have used them,” Schwartz said in an interview after the hearing.

The Air Force, in a separate statement to Bloomberg News, said “the lack of data network capability or any other specific capability would not be the cause to exclude the F-22 or other platforms.

‘‘The F-22 is still undergoing planned capability modifications to further the aircraft’s long-term air-to-ground capabilities,’’ it said.

Then-Air Force Chief of Staff General John Jumper in September 2002 renamed the F-22 the F/A-22 to stress its value against ground targets as congressional critics questioned its value. The ‘‘A’’ stood for ground attack. It was dropped several years later.

Pricey Raptor

The F-22 Raptor now is estimated to cost about $411 million per jet in inflation-adjusted dollars that amortize research, development, production, maintenance and construction.

That’s more than triple the $139 million-per-plane equivalent cost as the program proceeded into fill development in 1991, the U.S. Government Accountability Office said yesterday in its latest annual report on weapons systems.

Representative Jim Moran, a Virginia Democrat on the House defense appropriations subcommittee, said he’ll press Air Force leaders on F-22 issues during a budget hearing tomorrow.

‘‘The F-22 is our most advanced air-to-air fighter” and “its ability to achieve air supremacy in combat is without doubt,” Moran said in an e-mail statement.

“Yet, reports that the F-22 continues to lack a secure communication capability with other U.S. and NATO warplanes, and that it cannot detect and destroy ground targets on the fly are troubling, particularly given how much we’ve invested in this program,” he said.

The GAO reported in December that the jets began corroding soon after introduction into the U.S. Air Force in 2005 and the Defense Department plans to spend $228 million through 2016 to fix the deteriorating aluminum skin panels.

To contact the reporters on this story: Tony Capaccio in Washington at acapaccio@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Silva at msilva34@bloomberg.net.

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