July 19, 2009
F-22 to Japan and Israel: A debt of HonorBy Ed Timperlake
"For a plane to fly well it must be beautiful" -- Spoken like a true Frenchman the great aircraft designer Marcel Dassault did bequeath to the world of Fighter Pilots a magnificent series of Fighter aircraft. While the Dassault Mirage was being perfected in France, we Americans would have had to say beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
The US successfully produced a 5000 aircraft production run of a truly unique looking fighter the F-4 Phantom II. It may look ugly but it became a proven killer in both the air-to-air mission and air-to-ground role.
For the Israeli Air Force (IAF) the beauty of the Dassult Mirage III was also in its proven ability to keep Israel safe and free by also being a proven killer of all enemies. "Israeli delta fighter pilots have been credited with almost 300 kills between 1996 and 1974," quoted in a good book: Israeli Mirage and Nesher Aces.
Over time a lot of American visionary leaders and aircraft designers insisted on proven performance with realistic training. The result is an America fighter that caught up with those very impressive IAF Mirage statistics. The USAF next generation Fighter from the F-4 was the F-15 Eagle. Since the Eagle's introduction to actual combat, between AF Fighter Pilots and IDF Fighter pilots flying the Eagle, the F-15 has scored over a 100 to 0 kill rate.
High performance aerial combat is a dynamic business of kill or be killed. Dating to WW I Manfred von Richtofon, The Red Baron, with eighty aerial victories, said it best; and his words echo to this very day about the Fighter Pilots mission: "... when they spot an enemy they attack and shoot him down; anything else is rubbish."
American and Israeli fighter pilots became very close, especially in the formative years of Top Gun. The IAF was very generous in sharing their proven aerial battle tactics paid for in their blood, to help the US training syllabus. Top Gun, the Navy Fighter Weapons School, trained students on unique and successful tactics pioneered by the IAF -- especially during the F-4 period. Top Gun grads would then carry that knowledge out to the fleet.
The Marine counterpart to "Top Gun," Marine Air Weapon Training Squadron or MAWTS, went as far as to purchase the Israeli Kfir fighter to use as a realistic adversary.
While America has been selling the IAF our very best Fighters we have been concurrently making our best Fighter aircraft also available to Japan.
America, Israel and Japan are now at a crossroad. America may not be able to sell an export version of the best fighter in the world, the F-22, to Israel and Japan. The reason is the Administration's current insistence on holding fast to a DOD-budgeted production run of F-22s that will stop soon at 187. The harsh reality of stopping F-22 production will be two American allies who are in increasing mortal danger will not have access to the absolute best when they really need America's help.
It has been argued that the F-35 is a great substitute for the F-22. It is true the F-35, which is still slipping on delivery schedule, promises to be a very capable air-to-ground aircraft. However to determine the best aircraft to insure total Air Dominance, the F-22 production line should be kept open pending results of a real world instrumented and calibrated Air to Air fly off against the F-35. The old saying "fly before buy" might just work for equipping the USAF, Israel and Japan with sufficient F-22s.
I jumped into discussing Japan after focusing on Israelis' needs for Air Dominance because Japan has a similar problem, but also a unique military situation. Make no mistake: the Japanese WWII Zero Fighters flown by capable fighter pilots defeated a lot of Americans in aerial combat. But after the war Japan embraced the great vision of General MacArthur and renounced offensive war. They have a very capable self-defense force but need significant help because the military threat against Japan is growing.
In return for a limited Self Defense Force, Japan trusted America for strategic protection. That trust may tragically now be put to a harsh and real world test as North Korean Missiles fly over Japan and a Nuke is cooked off by an insane regime practically in their back yard.
Currently the Administration's challenge to the rogue actions of North Korea's "Dear Leader is to use stronger "Diplo speak" language and nothing more except still giving the PRC diplomatic credit for being helpful. The reality is The Peoples Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) is rapidly modernizing in both quantity and quality and the PRC is enabling North Korea and the Dear Leader to go crazy. Japan is facing their most significant military problem since they renounced offensive war. The F-22 would be a huge and unambiguous signal of American support in this increasingly dangerous time in Asia.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, Iran is questing for a nuke to wipe Israel off the map. Both Israel and Japan are longtime trusted allies desperately needing the best Fighter America can provide. Bad actors such as Iran, North Korea and the PRC, should know their actions will trigger real world consequences from America.
The F-22 Raptor puts a marker down that America stands with our allies when it really counts. The F-22 is the ultimate deterrent Aircraft for Israel and Japan, because it is so dominant and therefore would increase stability in both regions. Any adversary will think twice before attacking because it has no defense against F-22 including hiding behind a Russian state-of-the-art S-300 Air defense missile system.
Israel and Japan gave us their trust and we must be able to sell both countries the best fighter in the world the F-22 - the Raptor. It is a debt of honor that transcends marginal American DOD budget debates.
Ed Timperlake is a Former CO Marine Fighter Attack Squadron --VMFA-321