WASHINGTON, Nov. 22 (UPI) -- The U.S. Air Force has awarded a contract worth more than $1 billion for two dozen F-22 Raptor fighters.
The Defense Department said late Tuesday the cutting-edge warbirds would be part of the Lot 6 full-production contract, and delivery would be completed by February 2010. The contract calls for 23 planes plus one replacement test aircraft.
The F-22 Raptor is the air-dominance fighter the United States will deploy deep into the 21st Century.
Built by Lockheed Martin, the Raptor is a clear step up from the current front-line F-15. However, its price tag has sparked criticism. Critics also contend the advanced aircraft are unsuitable for likely threats in years to come.
Even the relatively small number of planes planned for the coming years has analysts opining that they would not be a significant factor in a large-scale dogfighting conflict.
Criticisms aside, the Raptor is touted by supporters as having just about everything a pilot would need to rule the air.
The jet has a stealthy airframe and advanced radar that make it incredibly difficult for adversaries to spot them before the Raptor can close and put an air-to-air missile into action. In addition, the plane cruises at supersonic speeds, which greatly expands its effective patrol and response range.
The Pentagon reported recently that the Raptor made mincemeat of the F-15, F-16 and Navy F/A-18 in various mock engagements. The plane also dropped a 1,000-pound guided bomb from 50,000 feet while flying at Mach 1.5 and hit a moving target 24 miles away during a test in New Mexico this summer.
The Air Force has fielded operational F-22 squadrons in Alaska and at Langley Air Force Base in Virginia. Other planes will be based in New Mexico, Florida and Hawaii.