Scraping the F-22?

BY Herschel Smith
5 years, 3 months ago

This commentary by K T McFarland has become typical of the current F-22 bloodsport.

If we had an infinite amount of money to spend on defense, of course, the F-22 would be great. But we don’t. We need to increase the size of the Army and Marines. We need to increase resources devoted to intelligence. So let’s do the same job the Raptor would do but with cheaper weapons systems.

The F-22 Raptor: The Air Force doesn’t want it. The Secretary of Defense doesn’t want it. Security experts say we don’t need it. And fiscal hawks say there are much less expensive and better alternatives. Yet the pork barrel spenders in Congress insist on putting the Raptor back in the Defense Budget.

Why? Because incumbents figure they can buy votes by bragging to their constituents that they brought home the bacon with defense spending in the district. That’s why the Raptor’s subcontracts were sprinkled across 44 states — to insure Congress would add it back in the the budget even if the Pentagon cut it out. They’ve figured out a simple but fundamental truth — they can bribe the public with the public’s money. The incumbents get to keep their jobs but to the nation’s detriment.

If we had an infinite amount of money to spend on defense, of course, the F-22 would be great. But we don’t. We need to increase the size of the Army and Marines. We need to increase resources devoted to intelligence. So let’s do the same job the Raptor would do but with cheaper weapons systems — pilotless combat drones like the Predator and its successor the Reaper ($8 million each) — which have proven effective and lethal in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

I was in the Pentagon in the early 1980′s when we first ordered the Raptor — at $60 million apiece. But so far the Raptor has taken almost thirty years to produce and come in at $350 million per plane, with future orders at $167 million a piece.

The original plan for the Raptor was to deal with anything the Soviets could put in the air. But the Soviet Union is no more and its successor, the Russian Air Force, can be bested with something far less costly and more reliable than the Raptor.

And while no one disputes that the Raptor has lots of bells and whistles, only half of the current fleet are flight-ready, and none of them have been used in combat missions Iraq or Afghanistan.
We should scrap plans for more Raptors in favor of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter aircraft — which is cheaper, more flexible and represents the next generation of technology. It is a better investment in national security. But it’s not as good for pork barrel spending, so Congress CUT $530 million from the Joint Strike Fighter’s budget!

The only thing we should do with the F-22 Raptor is rename it — The White Elephant.

She’s just making stuff up.  The only reason that Gates has had to make the tough call to limit the production of F-22s is because at least some in the Air Force do indeed want it.  Granted, this seems to point otherwise.

It’s official: The USAF did want more F-22s and considered a 180-some force to be a high risk approach, but after the Defense Department provided the service with a new assessment of future wars, the USAF changed its mind. That’s what the service’s top leaders say in a signed piece in this morning’s Washington Post.

The most important fact about this story is that it had to be written at all. Gates said on Monday that the AF had fully supported the decision to close the F-22 line. Nobody with any great power and influence (current or retired officers, for example) has spoken against it, except for the usual suspects on the Hill. Maybe Gates is reading the all-time-record comment thread on Ares.

The second important piece is here: First, based on warfighting experience over the past several years and judgments about future threats, the Defense Department is revisiting the scenarios on which the Air Force based its assessment.

Read this in conjunction with the paragraph before it, which states that Donley and Schwartz concluded last summer that a 381-aircraft force was “low-risk” and that 243 was “moderate risk”. It’s not a huge logical leap to say that 183 was termed “high risk” – that is, likely to prove deficient against future threats.

The USAF has not changed its methodology, but the DoD “is revisiting the scenarios” – that is, changing the inputs to the process. That is of course the DoD’s job; but the Gates team seems to have done this in only one specific case. And when was it done? As we’ve reported before, the USAF in March was saying that it needed more F-22s.

Basically, this amounts to crafting a model of hybrid wars as the primary mission (along with jettisoning the two-war paradigm under the QDR), and telling the Air Force to plan for it.  This is circular, and proves little if anything regarding whether the F-22 is needed.  It may not matter, since Obama has apparently won this victory, calling the F-22 wasteful and threatening a veto of any legislation that includes more F-22s.  Sidebar comment: when the Obama administration is spending the U.S. into oblivion with waste and wealth redistribution, this claim on the F-22 is so hypocritical that it’s laughable.  It’s a tough call for Gates because he has no other option given the need for more ground troops.  Obama left him with Hobson’s choice.  Diabolical – and shortsighted.

The Captain’s Journal would feel better about the F-35 as the next generation all purpose fighter aircraft if it had seen production and flying hours.  But it is inferior in air-to-air combat and yet to be flown by U.S. AF pilots.  Also note that in spite of what the QDR might conclude, we have recommended replacement of the sea-based expeditionary model for forcible entry with a combined sea-based and air-based approach that doesn’t rely on the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle.

We have recommended heavier reliance, not less reliance, on manned air power both from land bases and sea-based craft as an important leg of conventional, expeditionary, counterinsurgency and hybrid warfare.  We will grant the point that the VTOL F-35 will be a mainstay in the Marines’ model rather than the F-22, but if the skies are controlled by rockets and enemy aircraft, the sinking of an Amphibious Assault Dock with an entire Battalion of Marine infantry on board would end whatever expeditionary entry that was planned.  Air power is critical to the success of every form of warfare mentioned above.

It may be that the F-35 will come along in time to contribute to interim needs, and that its inferiority to the F-22 won’t do harm to the conduct of its mission.  But this hasn’t been proven to our standards.  Either way, while bashing the F-22 has become oh so posh and in vogue, we here at The Captain’s Journal don’t get into posh. We trust only in hard analysis.



  • Warbucks

    We’ll still be seeing the “Captain’s ” signature A-10 Warthog, air frame and the C-130 airframe on active duty for another 50 years. Do we still own an air wing of mothballed AD-6′s?

  • http://www.captainsjournal.com/ Herschel Smith

    The day the A-10 leaves service will surely be a dark day.

    http://www.captainsjournal.com/2007/08/26/faster-kill-chain/

    But we mustn’t let our desire for the beauties like the A-10 crowd out the helicopters too. That’s the main point here. We need all of the above (from the A-10 to the F-22 to the helicopter), and certainly helicopters in my version of expeditionary forcible entry from sea (which relies in air assault, not sea assault).

    As for the F-35, I want to know more about what, how and when, and I want to see what the AF pilots say about it first. National trust and faith in something has hasn’t been tested and hit the assembly line is dangerous and unwise. It’s a poor way to plan for self defense.

  • Pingback: The Captain's Journal » F-35 Over Budget and Behind Schedule


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This article is filed under the category(s) Air Force,F-22 and was published July 22nd, 2009 by Herschel Smith.

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