$77 Billion Fighter Jets That Have Never Seen Combat Now Grounded Indefinitely

F-22 Raptor, never seen combat, grounded due to oxygen system concerns.

ByABC News
May 6, 2011, 11:57 AM

May 6, 2011 — -- The U.S. Air Force fleet of stealth F-22 Raptor fighter jets, which has never seen combat despite costing the U.S. government nearly $80 billion, has now been grounded indefinitely.

The order came down from the Air Force's Air Combat Command Tuesday due to "recent reports of potential oxygen system malfunctions," Air Combat Command Captain Jennifer Ferrau told ABC News.

"The stand-down provides Air Force officials the opportunity to investigate the reports and ensure crews are able to safely accomplish their missions," Ferrau said.

The grounding comes just days after a rare video surfaced featuring a flight by one of the F-22s closest potential air rivals, the Chinese J-20 stealth fighter.

But for U.S. forces in each of America's three current major combat operations, having the F-22s sitting on the sidelines will not make much of a difference -- other than training and patrol operations, that's where they've been since the first of the expensive planes went combat ready in December 2005.

READ: The $77 Billion Fighter Jets That Have Never Gone to War

When the U.S. led an international effort to secure a no-fly zone over Libya in March, the Raptors did not participate. The Air Force said the planes simply weren't necessary to take out Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi's air defenses.

"If this was a requirement, it would've been used," Air Force spokesperson Maj. Chad Steffey told ABC News then. "We had all the assets that we needed in Europe already... It simply wasn't an operational requirement."

In fact, though the Air Force has more than 160 F-22s, Steffey said that they have not been an "operational requirement" in any major theater of combat for the U.S., from Iraq to Afghanistan.

Not a single one of the planes -- which cost U.S. government $77.4 billion for a total of 187 planes from Lockheed Martin according to recent report by the Government Accountability Office -- has used what Lockheed Martin's website called a "revolutionary leap in lethality" in defense of U.S. interests.

In 2009, Congress cut all funding for new Raptors, stopping the orders at 187 operational planes -- the last of which are still being delivered -- compared to the more than 600 that were originally part of the deal. However, Lockheed Martin is still receiving hundreds of millions in taxpayer dollars to make upgrades to existing planes.

The closest an F-22 has come to combat was in 2007 when a pair of Raptors intercepted and monitored two Russian bombers that were on patrol in airspace near Alaska, according to a report by Air Force Magazine.