From an industry insider:
The press likes to throw around the current production number of 187 jets as “enough” for future combat operations. Typically, they miss a lot with that number. Assuming all 187 contracted jets are built, nowhere near that number will ever be combat aircraft. Two have been lost in crashes (the one last month tragically taking the life of the pilot), and four or five of the early production jets have been retired from service. Another dozen or so are committed to flight test for their service lives, and the 27 training jets at Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida will never see combat unless the US is invaded. That leaves about 140 F-22’s spread out across only six squadrons (two each at Langley AFB, Elmendorf AFB, and Holloman AFB). No fighter jet (no aircraft, for that matter) is 100% available 100% of the time. Given a very optimistic 80% availability rate (which would be high for any fighter), that would give you at best 112 Raptors to go to war with–and that would leave the entire rest of the world undefended. Compare that to the current fleet of about 400 F-15C’s (the jet the F-22 was built to replace) and you get some idea of how small that number really is.
It’s very, very difficult to properly advocate for a jet whose actual capabilities are classified (and for good reason), but here’s a true story about the Raptor that I am able to pass along. Five or six years ago, there was a flight test “fight” planned at Edwards AFB involving two F-22’s vs. six F-15’s. The Eagles were flown out of Nellis AFB in Nevada, by instructors at the Fighter Weapons School, which is the Air Force’s equivalent to the Naval Top Gun school. In other words, those six pilots were among the very best fighter jocks in the world, flying the then-current all-time champion fighter (combat record: 104 kills, no losses).
The morning of the test, one of the two F-22’s took off, but the other one had to ground abort for a mechanical problem. They couldn’t conduct the actual test as planned, but the Raptor pilot suggested that they go ahead and run the test scenario “for practice.”
Ten minutes later, that F-22 was the only “live” jet left in the sky. Not one of the Eagles even got a shot off, and all of them were declared “dead” by the test officials. Bear in mind, this was early in the decade, when the Raptor’s avionics systems and software were still in development, and nowhere near as stable and capable as they are today. That doesn’t say everything you need to know about the F-22, but it does say a lot.
The U.S. has a weapon far superior to anything the rest of the world has. It is useful as a deterrent to war as much as it is a weapon of war. Why we would short-change our defense for a cost of perhaps $60 billion in an era of trillion dollar deficits is mind-boggling.