Defense

September 5, 2012

U.S. commander: Stealth fighters `100 percent’ safe

The deployment of a dozen F-22 stealth fighters to Japan has so far gone off without a hitch as the aircraft are being brought back into the skies in their first overseas mission since restrictions were imposed over incidents involving pilots getting dizzy and disoriented, a senior U.S. Air Force commander told the Associated Press Aug. 30.

The six-month mission is a key test for the fighters, which have been the focus of intensive investigations over potentially deadly breathing problems in the cockpit.

Following more than a dozen incidents in which pilots said they were having symptoms suggesting they were not getting enough oxygen, and a fatal crash in 2010 that has since been ruled primarily a case of pilot error, the F-22 fleet was grounded for several months last year. It was put under restrictions again in May after two pilots came forward with claims that the aircraft weren’t safe to fly.

Brig. Gen. Matthew Molloy, commander of the 18th Wing at Kadena Air Base on the island of Okinawa, said there have been no incidents with the F-22s since they arrived in Japan late July, just days after U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced he was easing the restrictions. The planes have been flying almost daily since then, weather permitting.

“We won’t ever bury anything if there are issues, but so far, none,” Molloy, who is also an F-22 pilot, told The AP in a telephone interview. “It’s delivering safely.”

In giving the green light to send the stealth fighters to Okinawa, the Air Force said it had identified the main problem as a faulty valve in its “Combat Edge” flight vest and said it was taking a series of measures to ensure pilot safety. The measures should be complete by the end of the year.

In the meantime, the pilots in Japan are operating under altitude ceilings so they do not need to use flight vests. They are also on a “tether,” meaning they must remain close to an emergency landing site.

“The Air Force has been aggressively looking at this very complex issue,” Molloy said. “I’m glad that we are getting back on the road.”

Some critics have questioned the Air Force’s decision to deploy the F-22s to Japan before all of the life support fixes have been finished.

The choice of Okinawa is also sensitive because of an uproar over plans by the Marines to deploy their MV-22 Osprey at another base there as early as next month. Despite reassurances from Washington, opposition to the Osprey, which can take off and land like a helicopter but fly like an airplane, is strong on Okinawa because of two recent crashes elsewhere.

Molloy said he is “100 percent” confident that the F-22s are safe to fly. He said sending them to Japan was justified because they boost U.S. capabilities in a key region and reassure U.S. allies of Washington’s commitment to them.

“I think this is very much appreciated by Japan,” Molloy said. “It strengthens our alliance, it shows that we are very committed.”

The problems with the F-22 have been particularly troubling for the Air Force because the fighter is in many ways its showcase aircraft – and possibly its’ most controversial.

The F-22 can evade radar and fly at faster-than-sound speeds without using afterburners, capabilities unmatched by any other nation. But at $190 million apiece, not counting development costs, it was lambasted in Congress as an overpriced luxury item not suited to current conflicts. Its production was halted last spring and the aircraft has never been used in combat.

Nevertheless, Molloy said the Japan deployment shows that the F-22 remains an important part of the U.S. air arsenal because it gives the Air Force the capability to get into contested areas against adversaries that have better air defenses than countries like Iraq or Afghanistan.

“It’s a game-changer. It does air superiority on steroids,” he said. “It’s a strategic gem, a national treasure.”

 




All of this week's top headlines to your email every Friday.


 
 

 

Headlines March 4, 2015

News: Pentagon: Another BRAC will save money - Pentagon planners have a new pitch to lawmakers skeptical of a fresh round of base closings: We promise we’ll save money this time.   Business: China’s new C919 will begin test flights this year - China’s new superjet will take to the skies for the first time later this...
 
 
Air Force photograph by SrA. Jensen Stidham

World War II pilot reunited with P-47

Air Force photograph by SrA. Jensen Stidham Retired Air National Guard Chief Warrant Officer 2 Robert Hertel, laughs while under the wing of a P-47 Thunderbolt during the Heritage Flight Training and Certification Course Feb. 2...
 
 

News Briefs March 4, 2015

General: 8,500 Islamic State fighters killed in Iraq so far The U.S.-led military coalition in Iraq has killed more than 8,500 Islamic State fighters since its bombing campaign began in August, the top general overseeing the coalition said March 3. Army Gen. Lloyd Austin, the commander of U.S. Central Command, said the Islamic State, which...
 

 
Lockheed Martin photograph

Turning up the heat

Lockheed Martin photograph Lockheed Martin ATHENA laser weapon system defeats a truck target by disabling the engine, demonstrating its military effectiveness against enemy ground vehicles. Latest evolution of Lockheed Martin l...
 
 

USO Visit

Air Force photograph by Jet Fabara Actor Vince Vaughn speaks with Edwards Airmen and 412th Security Forces Squadron members at the base library before introducing an advance screening of his new movie, “Unfinished Business,” at the base theater Feb. 28.
 
 

Sikorsky S-97 RAIDERô team begins final assembly of second aircraft

Sikorsky Aircraft Corp., a subsidiary of United Technologies Corp., announced March 4 the start of final assembly of the second S-97 RAIDERô helicopter at the company’s Development Flight Center. Along with a team of industry suppliers, Sikorsky is developing two RAIDERô prototypes to demonstrate the revolutionary new capabilities in improved maneuverability and flight speed. The...
 




0 Comments


Be the first to comment!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>