Participants of the F-22 SRP project and the last refurbished aircraft
The United States Air Force has completed the F-22 Structural Repair Program. Its goal was to overhaul and restore the technical condition of the existing 5th generation Lockheed Martin F-22A Raptor fighters. As a result of the program, the entire fleet of these aircraft meets the requirements, and the service life of the equipment has grown to the planned 8 thousand hours.
Serial production of F-22A fighters was launched in 2001 and continued until 2011. The first plans called for the purchase of hundreds of aircraft, but due to the high cost and constant disputes at different levels, only 187 production fighters were built. With the exception of a few lost vehicles, they remain in the ranks and solve the assigned tasks.
The first production F-22A reached operational readiness and became full-fledged combat units in 2004-2005. It is easy to calculate that these aircraft remain in service for more than 15 years and have managed to develop a significant part of their service life. The last fighters this year will celebrate their tenth anniversary – which also affects their condition and prospects.
The design resource of the F-22A fighter is 8 thousand flight hours, but this requires repairs after several years of operation. A related maintenance program called the Structural Repair Program was launched in 2006-2007. Over the next years, it was planned to monitor the service of aircraft and control the development of the resource, and after reaching certain indicators, send equipment for restoration.
On January 26, the Air Force announced the completion of work on the SRP. Over the years, all combatant F-22As have undergone repairs and refurbishment – some of them more than once. The last of the machines was tested at the end of last year. According to the results of the repair, the flight life of each aircraft was brought to the design 8 thousand hours. This allows him to remain in the ranks for 40 years.
Works and their performers
The F-22 SRP program was carried out by several organizations. The main work was entrusted to the 574th Maintenance Squadron from the auxiliary organization Ogden Air Logistics Complex. The squadron received a full set of equipment and equipment for the inspection and repair of equipment. In addition, Lockheed Martin and Boeing, which previously participated in serial production, played a large role in the program.
Last refurbished F-22A on trial
Over the past years, the 574th squadron has carried out repair work on 247 aircraft. This means that about a quarter of the cars were restored in several stages, as the service continued. 8645 applications were completed, which required more than 3.88 million man-hours.
Some details of the work carried out are reported. So, 1.55 million man-hours were spent on the restoration of the unique coating of the aircraft skin. For all its advantages, it is regularly criticized. New data from 574 Squadron reveals the scale of the problem in terms of maintenance. Another 2.328 million hours were spent on anti-corrosion, redesign, upgrades and general repairs.
It is noted that aviation industry companies made a significant contribution to the repair work. They provided the necessary tools and devices, technologies, etc. In addition, company representatives constantly monitored the progress of the work.
In parallel with the modernization work within the F-22 SRP, planned and unscheduled repairs of damaged equipment were carried out. Thus, the forces of the 574th squadron restored five seriously damaged aircraft over several years, which took 50.9 thousand man-hours.
With the completion of the F-22 SRP program, 574 Squadron and its allies will continue to service and upgrade the fighters. Plans for the near future have already been announced. Specialists will have to further inspect and restore equipment, focusing on several main areas.
Immediate plans include inspection and overhaul of aircraft control systems and controls. In addition, the air intakes and their coating need to be restored. In parallel, the modernization of avionics will continue in order to improve current performance and gain new capabilities.
A new stage of updating and maintaining the state of technology has already started. It is reported that the necessary procedures have already passed nine aircraft. It took approx. 200 thousand hours. The work will continue until the entire park is renovated.
The current electronics upgrade is part of the Raptor Agile Capability Release 1 (RACR 1) project, which runs until 2024. This project is reported to affect communications systems, electronic warfare and cockpit equipment. All these measures will expand the capabilities of aircraft, as well as relieve them of typical problems.
Repair of the nacelle
In its current form, the F-22A communicate using its own IDL (Intraflight Data Link) protocol, and additional hardware is required to integrate into the Link 16 circuits. As part of RACR 1, aircraft will receive communication equipment compatible with the Link 16 bus. In addition, they will introduce the Multifunction Information Distribution System-Joint (MIDS-J) system, with the help of which the fighter will be able to efficiently operate in the same network with other aircraft, ships and ground forces. …
In 2024, a new modernization program starts – Mid-Life Upgrade. The development of such an upgrade has not yet been completed. It is assumed that the updated F-22A will receive new radar and other means, a modern computer, new weapons, etc.
Realizing the potential
The F-22A Raptor fighter was completed 10 years ago, but it still retains the title of the most complex and expensive tactical aircraft in the world. This status is reflected in a known way in the specifics of operation, maintenance and modernization. In particular, there is a need for a long and continuous process of repair and gradual renovation.
Radar absorbing coating recovery process
To date, F-22A aircraft have undergone several refurbishment and restoration programs. The recently completed SRP has become one of the largest and most important, as it will fully realize the full potential of an expensive and complex aircraft. In addition, it creates the foundation for future upgrades to RACR 1 and MLU.
The US Air Force plans to keep the F-22A fighters in service until at least the middle of the 21st century. Moreover, assessments are expressed about the fundamental possibility of their operation until the sixties. Apparently, the SRP and the expected MLU will not be the last update programs, and similar projects will be carried out regularly in the future.
All this will make it possible to continue operating the uniquely expensive aircraft for as long as possible and to maximize their potential – which is especially important in view of the high cost of the project at all stages. The task of extending the service life of the F-22A to design values has been successfully solved, and now aircraft manufacturers and the Air Force will have to develop and carry out new upgrades. The results of these projects will become known only in the distant future.