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World

For Missions Over Hostile Syria, Air Force Unwrapped Its Newest Jet

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

The airstrikes by the United States over Iraq and Syria marked the first time that the F-22 Raptor has been used in combat. The F-22 is the most advanced aircraft in the U.S. arsenal. But despite being in service since 2005, the fighter hasn't taken part in combat missions until this week. Lieutenant General Burton M. Field is the deputy chief of staff for operations, plans and requirements at U.S. Air Force headquarters in Washington, D.C. General Field, thanks for being with us.

LIEUTENANT GENERAL BURTON M. FIELD: Hey, thanks for having me, Scott.

SIMON: I'm told you have flown an F-22 yourself. Am I correct?

FIELD: I have. I was fortunate enough to fly the F-22 back in 2005 through 2007 when we brought it into the operational Air Force.

SIMON: Refresh our recollection, General Field, how expensive is the F-22?

FIELD: Well, I picked one up at the factory, the last one that was delivered to Langley Air Force base. And I signed a piece of paper that said it was $90 million. And...

SIMON: $90 million, I'll point out, is about $20 million more than what the Indian government just spent to send a probe into orbit around Mars.

FIELD: Is it?

SIMON: Yeah, that's about $70 million.

FIELD: Well, that's how much these things cost.

SIMON: Well, I understand they do a lot. But it must've been frustrating to have them sitting on the ground for so many years.

FIELD: Well, again, we have a lot of capability in our Air Force that can handle jobs in low-threat environments. So we haven't actually had to use the F-22 until now. Syria has a credible air defense network. And although we told them that we were going to undertake the operation and asked them not to stand in the way, there's always the chance that somebody didn't get the word. And so having an F-22 with those capabilities of stealth, speed, maneuverability and that integrated avionics that produces situational awareness - the package then had a much better idea of what was going on with the Syrian systems as well as finding the ISIL targets.

SIMON: Do you have any operational reason to worry that Syrian air defenses might spring into action - they might one day or one hour decide enough of this?

FIELD: We haven't seen any indication why that would happen. And I'm sure that out in CENTCOM, they are looking at that issue. And I'm sure they have been discussing the possibility of that occurring. And they probably have a plan in place and how to handle that.

SIMON: General, do you have to worry about the possibility that even in, at least what so far seems to be uncontested conflict - if that's quite the term of art, I mean, in the air - that some technical problem could bring an F-22 down and then the Syrians or ISIL would have it and give it to the Chinese?

FIELD: Fortunately, we have a fairly - really reliable aircraft. And so that is an event that would be exceedingly rare. However...

SIMON: It happened to a stealth. I think we all recall that.

FIELD: Yeah, but those kind of things are very rare when you look at the total number of sorties and missions that we've flown over the last, you know, 25 years.

SIMON: Lieutenant General Burton M. Field, thanks for being with us.

FIELD: You bet, Scott. Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.