The U.S. Air Force’s renewed request to retire the 32 Block 20 F-22 fighters accounts for more than $400 million of the service’s $2.3 billion request in fiscal 2024 for the Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) program.

“We maintain our position from the FY 23 budget, and that is that the Block 20 F-22s are not combat representative and we again propose to divest them,” Air Force Lt. Gen. Richard Moore, the service’s deputy chief of staff for plans and programs, said in response to a question from Rep. Donald Norcross (D-N.J.), the ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee’s air and land forces panel, at a March 29 hearing of the subcommittee.

“We seldom link any particular offset to any particular investment, but in this case all of the resources that came from the Block 20 [fiscal 2024 divestment] went directly to NGAD,” Moore testified. “We believe we must get to NGAD to be able to continue confronting Chinese aggression into the [20]30s and so that to us was a trade worth making, and we also note that upgrading the Block 20s to a combat configuration is cost prohibitive and very time intensive.”

“Based on the most advanced weapons an F-22 Block 20 can carry, it is not competitive with the [Chinese] J-20 [fighter] with the most advanced weapons the Chinese can put on it,” he said.

Section 143 of the fiscal 2023 National Defense Authorization Act prohibits the retirement of airworthy F-22s and charges the Government Accountability Office with conducting an audit to determine the cost and schedule of upgrading Block 20 F-22s to Block 30/35s or above.

At the March 29 hearing, Norcross asked Moore if the Air Force could use the Block 20 F-22s for training.

The Block 20 F-22 “could be used for training, but the configuration of the [Block 20 F-22] cockpit is different than the configuration of combat representative aircraft, and so as we train pilots in a Block 20 aircraft there’s negative learning that occurs, and they have to unlearn some of the things that they learn in the Block 20 when they go to an operational aircraft,” Moore replied.

Asked by Norcross whether another congressional stiff arm in fiscal 2024 to the proposed retirement of the Block 20 F-22s would mean that the more than $400 million is unavailable for NGAD, Moore replied that “I couldn’t say that that’s what will happen.”

“We’ll have to work with the Congress…in the event that [Block 20 F-22] divestitutre is prohibited but continued operations are not appropriated,” Moore said.