U.S. Air Force Gen. Mark Welsh made comments at an Air Force Association event on Thursday that were uncharacteristically bullish on the prospect of restarting the F-22 program.
Lockheed Martin shuttered the F-22 program almost five years ago. Since then, the top Air Force brass has been focused on the troubled F-35 program as well as looking decades forward to the Next Generation Air Dominance program.
In April, however, Rep. Mike Turner of Ohio said in Congress: “In light of growing threats from a resurgent Russia and an aggressive China, further exploration into restarting the F-22 line is deserved.”
Welsh’s comments on Thursday represented a shift in the Air Force’s official attitude toward reviving the F-22; it had previously said doing so would not be cost effective.
“I don’t think it’s a wild idea,”Welsh said, as Defensenews.com notes. “I mean the success of the F-22 and the capability of the airplane and the crews that fly it are pretty exceptional. I think it’s proven that the airplane is exactly what everybody hoped it would be.”
“We’re using it in new and different ways and it’s been spectacularly successful and its potential is really, really remarkable,” Welsh continued. “And so going back and looking and certainly raising the idea well, could you build more? It’s not a crazy idea.”
The Air Force could not only reboot the F-22, but improve on it as well. The jet’s thrust vectoring could stand to be revisited, which would give the plane an edge in engagements that occur within visual range, as The Aviationist’s Dario Leone notes.
Also, a helmet-mounted display, similar to the kind found in the F-35, could increase the fighter’s abilities.
As Jamie Hunter, editor of Combat Aircraft Monthly, wrote in 2015: “How about a risk-reduced approach for NGAD? Take the almost perfect Raptor and put it back into production, albeit this time with the tweaks that make it truly the best fighter ever it can be. That approach may just help mitigate against the early cost overruns and delays and provide capability faster and when it’s needed.”