Romney wants to buy more F-22s

Republican presidential candidate says he wants to re-open the F-22 production line, which could cost at least $900 million.

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney said Saturday he would buy more F-22 Raptors as part of his plan to reverse many of the defense cuts planned by the Obama administration.

Romney told a Virginia Beach, Va., television station he would not include the military in the spending cuts he is proposing to cut down the U.S. deficit.

“Rather than completing nine ships per year, I’d move that up to 15. I’d also add F-22s to our Air Force fleet. And I’d add about 100,000 active duty personnel to our military team,” Romney said in the interview. “I think the idea of shrinking our military to try and get closer to balancing our budget is the wrong place to look.”

He’s repeated his plan to increase ship building from nine to 15 ships per year and add 100,000 active duty troops to the military’s end strength.¬†However, this is the first time he’s mentioned any plans to buy more F-22s.

F-22 production was famously ended by former Defense Secretary Robert Gates after the Air Force had fought for the U.S. to buy more fifth generation fighter jets. Air Force leaders wanted to buy 243 F-22s, Gates halted production at 187. Originally, the Air Force wanted to buy more than 750 Raptors.

The last U.S. F-22 rolled off the production line in 2011. The Raptor program has since come under scrutiny after a string of pilots have suffered hypoxia-like symptoms and struggled to breathe in flight. Air Force officials claim to have found the cause, but it has repeatedly grounded the F-22 fleet the past two years and continue to impose flight restrictions.

Air Force leaders pushed to build more F-22s to add to the fleet because they warned a fleet of 187 would be insufficient to defeat an enemy with a top line air force like China. Former Air Force Chief of Staffs Gen. Norton Schwartz and Gen. Michael “Buzz” Moseley argued the costs of re-opening the production line would be too costly to build up the fleet if Congress changed its mind and wanted more F-22s.

If Romney wins and follows through on his plan to buy more F-22s, it would cost at least $900 million to reopen the F-22 production line, according to Loren Thompson, a consultant for Lockheed Martin and other defense companies.

In 2010, Japan discussed buying 40 F-22s from Lockheed Martin, builder of the F-22. Lockheed officials then told Japanese leaders it would cost $900 million to re-open the production line. Thompson said the cost would surely increase when considering two years have passed and the production line was still “semi-warm.”

The cost to reopen the production line would come in addition to the per aircraft price tag to manufacture each jet. That per aircraft cost is harder to decipher. When factoring in development and manufacturing, the price tag per jet totaled the U.S. more than $370 million. However, the flyaway cost — the cost of manufacturing one jet — equaled $137 million per jet.

Re-opening the production line in Marietta, Ga., would take at least two years, Thompson said. Lockheed would be slowed by re-establishing supplier networks and re-training employees.

“In a rush, you could do it in about two years assuming all the other workers weren’t on other projects like F-35,” Thompson said.

He didn’t expect the problems with the F-22’s oxygen system to hold a Romney administration back from following through on buying more F-22 plans.

“It wouldn’t be a problem, Thompson said. “If there are still issues with the oxgen system they could just switch over to another supplier like Cobham.”

There are also questions about whether further F-22 buys would affect the acquisition schedule for the F-35. The Defense Department plans to buy 2,443 F-35 Joint Strike Fighters.