LANGLEY AIR FORCE BASE, Va. — Gen. Mike Hostage, commander of Air Combat Command, talked with media at Langley Air Force Base, Va., April 30 about the national security imperative for the F-22, the status of efforts to identify a root cause for unexplained physiological incidents, and risk mitigation efforts since the Raptorâ€™s return to flying operations in September 2011.
Confirming recent media reports of the F-22 deploying to Southwest Asia, Hostage emphasized the Raptorâ€™s ability to support combatant commander requirements around the world. â€œI wonâ€™t comment where itâ€™s deployed to or where it deployed from, but yes, the F-22 is on an operational deployment now. And this is not the first operational deployment,â€ he said. â€œIf your adversary is so concerned about what your capabilities are they decide not to engage with you, that to me is the ultimate use of your military capability. People pay attention to where this airplane goes and what it does…we need to make sure that itâ€™s a sustained part of our inventory.â€
The command-directed stand down from May to September 2011 was a prudent measure following reports of potential oxygen system malfunctions. Since the stand down, ACC has implemented a number of risk mitigation measures intended to protect F-22 pilots and maintenance crews and prevent future incidents.
Hostage said he understands there are still concerns about the aircraft; however, he explained that thereâ€™s always a certain amount of risk involved, and the risk must be balanced with the requirement for the capability.
â€œIn a peacetime training circumstance, we want to operate at as low of risk is prudent for the level of training we get out of a mission,â€ he said. â€œWhen we go into combat, risk goes up, but the reason to assume that risk goes up as well.
â€œWe live in a community where risk is part of our lives,â€ he said. â€œIf we think the risk has gone to a level where we just canâ€™t accept it, we either reduce that risk or eliminate it. But right now, we believe that risk -although itâ€™s not as low as we would like it – is low enough to safely operate the airplane at the current
Hostage said he believes this risk is not a risk he expects his Airmen to take alone. In an effort to learn more about the aircraft and get a better understanding of what F-22 pilots are dealing with, ACCâ€™s commander will soon begin flying the Raptor.
â€œIâ€™m asking these guys to assume some risk thatâ€™s over and above what everybody else is assuming, and I donâ€™t feel like itâ€™s right that I ask them to do it and then Iâ€™m not willing to do it myself — thatâ€™s not fair,â€ he said, adding that the day they figure out what the
problem is the day he will stop flying.
Since the aircraft resumed flying operations in September, the F-22 has flown more than 12,000 sorties and returned to operational capability.
â€œWeâ€™ve taken a very specific, methodical approach to how we return to flying — the types of missions and the durations of the missions,â€ said Maj. Gen. Charles Lyon, ACC director of operations. â€œWeâ€™ve been continually increasing the types and durations.â€
The Air Force continues to search for the root cause of the unexplained physiological incidents using detailed data-collection methods, which will soon include centrifuge and high-energy testing. Hostage said he believes the command is making significant progress toward an answer; however, he emphasized that scientific testing and data collection take time.
â€œI believe we are making significant progress toward an answer,â€ said Hostage. â€œI donâ€™t want to characterize how far or when because I donâ€™t own the progress of science. But I am confident weâ€™re going to get to a solution.â€
Both Lyon and Hostage compared this to the early days of the F-16.
Although the first F-16 had its first operational flight in 1970, the combat edge aircrew flight equipment, which was optimized for high-G flight, wasnâ€™t fielded until about 1988, Lyon said. â€œWe didnâ€™t field it slowly because we had fiscal challenges – it took us that long to get the understanding over time of what was actually happening.â€
Hostage illustrated a similar analogy regarding the unknown effects of human physiology and technology.
â€œWhat weâ€™re looking at is human physiology and the regime this airplane operates in,â€ he said. â€œThis airplane does things airplanes have never done before in regimes of flight that weâ€™ve never operated in before.â€
And Hostage said heâ€™s confident they will find a solution for what he calls â€œthe most tactically-capable aircraft in the world.â€
â€œThis nation needs this airplane – and every one of them,â€ he said. â€œI wish I had 10 times as many as I have.â€