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Air Force should study F-22 successor, official says

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Although the U.S. Air Force’s F-22 Raptor is still relatively new, the service needs to begin thinking now about what will someday replace its premier “air superiority” fighter jet, a top general said April 23.

“What we have to start looking at is what does air superiority look like 30 years from now,” Gen. Mark Welsh, Air Force chief of staff, said in response to a question at a National Press Club breakfast in Washington, D.C. “We’d better start thinking about it because it takes us a long time to deliver” due to the federal government’s complex equipment acquisition process.

Welsh said it is unclear whether the F-22 will be replaced by another fighter or something else.

“I don’t even know that it’s an airplane,” Welsh told the press club audience. “I have no idea yet what it’s going to look like, what it even is, whether it flies or whether it’s a combination of things.”

The Obama administration’s fiscal 2015 defense budget request, now under review in Congress, includes $15.7 million to begin to explore “next-generation air dominance” possibilities.

“A wide variety of concept options are being considered for an air dominance platform,” a Pentagon budget document says. If funded, the effort would “identify operational concepts and technologies that improve persistence, survivability, lethality, connectivity, interoperability and affordability in 2030 and beyond.”

The stealthy F-22, built by Lockheed Martin and Boeing and equipped with Pratt & Whitney engines, entered service in 2005 and is designed to penetrate enemy airspace and provide a “first-look, first-kill” capability against multiple targets. The Air Force has 183 Raptors in its inventory.

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