[O]n average from October last year to this May, just 55 percent of the deployed F-22 fleet has been available to fulfill missions guarding U.S. airspace, the Defense Department acknowledged this week. The F-22 has never been flown over Iraq or Afghanistan. . . .
"It is a disgrace that you can fly a plane [an average of] only 1.7 hours before it gets a critical failure" that jeopardizes success of the aircraft's mission, said a Defense Department critic of the plane who is not authorized to speak on the record. Other skeptics inside the Pentagon note that the planes, designed 30 years ago to combat a Cold War adversary, have cost an average of $350 million apiece and say they are not a priority in the age of small wars and terrorist threats.
Skin problems -- often requiring re-gluing small surfaces that can take more than a day to dry -- helped force more frequent and time-consuming repairs, according to the confidential data drawn from tests conducted by the Pentagon's independent Office of Operational Test and Evaluation between 2004 and 2008.
Over the four-year period, the F-22's average maintenance time per hour of flight grew from 20 hours to 34, with skin repairs accounting for more than half of that time -- and more than half the hourly flying costs -- last year, according to the test and evaluation office.
The Air Force says the F-22 cost $44,259 per flying hour in 2008; the Office of the Secretary of Defense said the figure was $49,808. The F-15, the F-22's predecessor, has a fleet average cost of $30,818.
A secret false claims act suit filed in 2007 by a Lockheed employee claims that Lockheed deliberate lied about skin coating problems to the Air Force.
Keep in mind that the F-15 warplanes it is replacing were built several decades ago, while the F-22s are brand new.