In April 2008, some pilots flying the Air Force's vaunted F-22 Raptor began reporting trouble breathing while in the air. More than four years later, the Pentagon still hasn't solved the problem, apparently a serious one involving equipment.
Since April 2008, 22 Raptor pilots have reported oxygen deprivation problems. These are among the most highly trained, highly capable personnel in the armed forces, both mentally and physically. They are not people who report a problem breathing unless it is a very clear, very serious concern. A few pilots actually have refused to fly the F-22, because of the oxygen system failure.
The F-22, at more than $400 million each when fully equipped, is among the most advanced weapons in the U.S. arsenal. It is a stealth craft, made to invade enemy airspace without being detected. Given the shift in tactics used by the armed forces, it is critical the Air Force be able to deploy F-22s whenever and wherever they are needed.
Yet earlier this year, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta ordered no F-22 be sent on a mission outside a "proximate distance" from a base - in case pilots suffer oxygen deprivation.
Panetta's order was issued only after trouble with the F-22 and pilots' concerns about it were publicized.
Why did it take the Pentagon - and the F-22's manufacturer, Lockheed-Martin Corp. - so long to take action on pilots' complaints? Is this a classic case of the military-industrial complex protecting itself? Or is it a situation in which some Air Force officers did not want to admit they were wrong about safety in the F-22?
Some members of Congress, both Democratic and Republican, want answers about the F-22. They should insist on assurances pilots are not being jeopardized - and national defense is not being hampered. Then, they should demand to know why it took so long for the Air Force to address what clearly is a serious problem.