5 years, 9 months ago
In a post entitled Well, well, well …, Abu Muqawama says:
The Air Force, in a stunning upset against the Boeing Company, awarded a $40 billion contract for aerial refueling tankers on Friday to a partnership between Northrop Grumman and the European parent of Airbus, putting a critical military contract partly into the hands of a foreign company.
Abu Muqawama knows next to nothing about the way the U.S. Air Force buys airplanes, but he knows enough from reading the Economist that this is huge. The KC-30, virtually everyone agreed, was the better aircraft. But did anyone honestly see Boeing not getting this contract? This gives us at Abu Muqawama hope in the ongoing war against ridiculous F-22 appropriations. If a large domestic lobby can be rejected in favor of common sense in one case…
The Captain’s Journal responds, “well, whatever.” We aren’t impressed with Abu’s glee and giddiness over the demise of U.S. defense contractors, weapons systems, and new aircraft. Sure, there is waste and we have spoken against it when we find it. Sure, the USAF needs to support the COIN campaigns in both Iraq and Afghanistan to the extent capable, and then press for more support when they think they have maxed out. Sure, we have praised the USAF on things such as COIN aircraft and the refurbishment of old aircraft to support the campaigns. Regular readers know of our love for and even infatuation with the A-10, and the upgraded A-10C with its faster kill chain. Just do a Google search, and you will find that no one can match our coverage on the A-10 or the V-22 Osprey (of which we are also big fans).
You will also find we are have been “good to go” on pushing for the growth of both the size of the military – all branches – and the spending for weapons systems. But knowing that these things are contingent on things out of our control (but rather, subject to the evil Congress which is controlled by the devil), we knew that future weapons systems would likely suffer as a result of the COIN campaigns. Want to know the first weapons system we would vote for here at TCJ? We would like to see a replacement for the M-16A2 / M4 / SAW to a more reliable system less likely to jam. Ain’t likely to happen, though, and it is more likely that the brass will decide that what we have is good enough. They always do.
Additionally, SECDEF Gates knows that the F-22 program will suffer due to the COIN campaigns, and is ready to do what needs to be done.
The effect is often jarring, in Washington, when someone inside the Beltway utters an uncomfortable truth. That’s what Defense Secretary Robert Gates did at the Senate Armed Services Committee on Wednesday, putting a damper on pressure from his own Air Force for Congress to buy more F-22 fighters. Gates believes the 183 F-22s currently planned are sufficient. “I know that the Air Force is up here and around talking about 350 or something on that order,” the Secretary said. But buying more of the costly F-22 will come at the expense of the new F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, which is about half the price.
“The reality is we are fighting two wars, in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the F-22 has not performed a single mission in either theater,” Gates said. That’s the kind of statement that sends generals up the wall – not only because it’s true, but because it’s the Secretary of Defense who’s saying it. And the generals know that the next time some eager-beaver congressional budget-cutters want to trim Pentagon spending, they’re going to roll out that quote.
Gates made clear he believes there is a need for the F-22. “It is principally for use against a near-peer in a conflict, and I think we all know who that is,” he said coyly. He’s referring to China, which today represents the only hope for both the U.S. Air Force and the Navy to justify spending billions of dollars on weapons initially designed to battle the Soviet Union. Since the end of the Cold War, the phrase “near-peer” has increasingly crept into Pentagon documents meaning a potential foe that could almost match the U.S. on the battlefield.
Well, do we need more F-22 to battle Beijing? Once again, Gates depressed the generals with his unassuming tone and logic. “Looking at what I regard as the level of risk of conflict with one of those near-peers over the next four or five years until the Joint Strike Fighter comes along,” he said, “I think that something along the lines of 183 is a reasonable buy.”
Deep in the Pentagon, Air Force generals know that the Bush Administration’s decision to close down the F-22 assembly line won’t come into effect until 2010. That gives them time to convince a new Administration that additional F-22s are vital to U.S. security. That’s because what Gates finds reasonable, some Air Force generals will treat as treasonable.
So Gates has lowered the bar as it is. But those who live for the demise of conventional war and the weapons with which it will be fought shouldn’t crow too much and should be careful what they ask for. All it will take to regret the decision to emaciate the USAF will be for China to cross the Taiwan strait and enslave millions under communism while the Navy and Air Force sit without recourse. Or, if that doesn’t jar you into reality, then consider that Russia is aiming past the F-22, and is trying to better the U.S. submarine fleet. Remember, fancy aircraft and ships are in place not only to wage war, but to be a preventative for war.
The Captain’s Journal wants to win the COIN campaigns as much as anyone does. In fact, we are willing to sacrifice Navy and Air Force money to do it. But it causes us no joy, and in the end, there will be a price to pay for this course of action. Finally, Abu should read the Economist more carefully. We don’t get something for nothing. We can delay or even outright cancel the F-22 program, but stress corrosion cracking and metal fatigue have caused rising expenses in repair of the existing fleet. Taking a dollar from the USAF might mean getting 50 cents.
Everyone has a domain he wants to protect. The real question is why we have forces deployed in Germany and Korea, costing money in a tip of the hat to 50 year old cold war thinking, when they could be stateside or contributing to the global war on terror? We must be efficient in finding ways to save money and fund the systems we need, both short term and long term.