By Glenn Pew, Contributing Editor, Video Editor
The last of 187 Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor fighter jets was delivered to the U.S. Air Force, Wednesday, provoking new debate about the jet's usefulness, cost and ongoing safety concerns. Since listed as combat-ready in 2005, not a single $420 million F-22 has flown a combat mission in any U.S. military engagement, including Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya. They have spent nearly five months of their service grounded due to yet unresolved concerns surrounding the system that delivers oxygen to the jets' pilots. And a few pilots now say they'd prefer not to fly the jet for that reason. In exercises, the F-22 consistently records lopsided wins when pitted against America's best jet fighters. But that hasn't silenced the jet's critics, which include Senator John McCain.
"I don't think the F-22 will ever be seen in the combat it was designed to encounter, because that threat is no longer in existence," McCain told ABC News, Wednesday. "Facts are stubborn things," McCain said, referring to the jet's lack of use in conflict. He added, separately, "There is no purpose, no mission in Afghanistan or Iraq, unless you believe that al Qaeda is going to have a fleet of aircraft." Supporters say the air superiority fighter simply has no credible threat to counter and that does not mean it's a useless tool. Thee vice president of Lockheed Martin's F-22 program told ABC, "The best weapon is the one that's never used." The total fleet cost ranges somewhere near $79 billion with a roughly $45,000 per hour operational cost, and the GAO says the fleet may require $9.7 billion in upgrades. And some pilots are going public with their concern over the jet's reported condition of causing pilots to experience potentially dangerous hypoxia-like symptoms. Two pilots shared their concerns with the broadcast audience of 60 Minutes in an episode scheduled to air Sunday, May 6.