Flight restrictions placed on the U.S. military's F-22 fighter fleet would not stop senior Pentagon officials from sending the Lockheed Martin-made jets into war, a top official says.
After a dozen F-22 Raptor pilots reported hypoxia symptoms mid-flight, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta hit the Air Force's prized fighter fleet with the restrictions earlier this month, after growing worried about the jets being safe in all circumstances. Panetta limited the distances the F-22s can fly during a single mission, while also ordering a fleet-wide installation of an automatic backup oxygen system.
But some experts told DOTMIL the restrictions were not that tight. For instance, Winslow Wheeler of the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) calls the restrictions "political moves." Loren Thompson of the Lexington Institute observed the Raptor fleet "would not have been put on restrictive status had there been a pressing danger overseas."
Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter has confirmed the F-22 is available for combat.
"Clearly, yes," Carter said Wednesday when asked whether the Raptor fleet would be used in combat if Pentagon officials determined it was needed. The jets would be sent into battle "if need be," Carter added.
"That's the reason for allowing the deployments to go forward," Carter said, referring to deployments of F-22s around the globe. One example is a Raptor squadron that recently was deployed to Al Dhafra Air Base in the United Arab Emirates, near the Iranian border.
"In terms of the deployment in southwest Asia, we believe that we can safely continue that deployment given the geography of the region," Pentagon press secretary George Little said earlier this month.
John T. Bennett covers national security and foreign policy for U.S. News & World Report. You can contact him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter.