The Air Force said in March it planned to implement an automatic emergency back-up oxygen system as one of 14 recommendations made by a scientific advisory board convened to investigate -- ultimately unsuccessfully -- the root cause of the hypoxia-like symptoms. Pentagon spokesperson Capt. John Kirby said the Secretary knows the Air Force is working hard but wanted to "add his muscle" to help find answers.
Despite multiple forward deployments, none of the jets in the $79 billion fleet have ever flown a combat operation for the United States since going combat-ready in late 2005.
Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey (D.-California) told ABC News she had planned to offer legislation that would restrict future F-22 funding until the Pentagon's Inspector General completed its own investigation into the apparent oxygen problems, but changed her mind after Panetta's directive.
"The men and women who wear the uniform deserve nothing less from their civilian leaders than the most vigilant steps to ensure their health and safety," Woolsey said. "With Secretary Panetta's announcement today, I am satisfied for now that safety concerns are being taken seriously at the highest levels."