Killing the F-22

The F-22 is very expensive, but delivers air superiority in return. The Secretary of Defense has announced that the Air Force will stop buying them. Price quotes range from $140 million per copy to $360 million or more, depending on how much R&D gets stuffed into the equation.  Wikipedia states that the incremental cost of one F-22 with the production line still running is $138 million. But it would be surprising if that figure didn't come down a bit if we decided to build an additional 500 or so. However, for that price the country and the U.S. Air Force do get an aircraft that embodies a unique combination of performance, stealth, and mission capability.

The controversy surrounding the F-22 has been stewing for a fairly long time. The pot boiled over a while back when Secretary of Defense Robert Gates canned the Air Force Chief of Staff and the Secretary of the Air Force. This was done ostensibly as a disciplinary measure designed to make an example of them over the Air Force's showily-revealed lack of compliance with nuclear weapons safety rules and mislabeled packages. Other former Air Force officers of my acquaintance and I, however, are of the opinion that the summary dismissal of General Moseley and Secretary Wynn was more likely done because of their continuing vocal support for the F-22, the "nuclear" issues notwithstanding.

In his Commentary posting regarding Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and his DoD budget proposals, Max Boot makes the following statement:

I am also amenable to some of the cuts he proposed. I have never been convinced of the need to buy both the F-22 and F-35, so I think Gates made a perfectly defensible decision to stop buying more F-22s while increasing and speeding up the acquisition of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

That would seem a prudent choice except for one small problem: the F-35 is not a replacement for, nor equivalent to, the F-22, as the Wall Street Journal recognizes. The F-22 is a higher performance aircraft designed specifically for the air superiority role, while the F-35 -- as is suggested by its description as the "Joint Strike Fighter" -- is intended for use primarily as a ground attack aircraft.  The F-22 sports a Mach 1.5 "supercruise" capability and vectored thrust for enhanced/high-altitude maneuvering whereas the F-35 does not.

One capability of the F-22 that seems to be ignored, or just left unmentioned, is that of a "first strike" weapon if armed with nukes.  A fleet of these virtually undetectable and 1.5 Mach cruising birds could, theoretically, wipe out an enemy's nuclear strike capacity without forewarning, which even ICBMs provide a smidgen of. For this reason, I wouldn't be surprised if China had a thing or two to say about the Japanese interest in purchasing a fleet of 200 F-22s. The U.S. quashed the deal with what is, in my opinion, a ludicrously transparent ploy to preemptively discourage the sale.  We offered to sell the aircraft if Japan was willing to fork over an extra billion dollars for a fleet equipped with avionics that had been downgraded to prevent the loss of technology to the Japanese.  They rejected that obvious insult poorly disguised as an offer.

Another, more likely explanation for the Chinese objecting to the Japanese acquiring F-22s may be its built-in signals intelligence capabilities. Recall the "incident" shortly after Bush became President in 2001 that involved the collision between a Navy EP-3 reconnaissance aircraft and a Chinese fighter. This "accident" resulted in the loss of the Chinese plane and its pilot, damage to the American aircraft that forced an emergency landing on Hainan Island, and an international standoff between China and the U.S. that was finally settled by a non-apology Bush apology.  All this would have been avoided had there been an F-22 on the job gathering electronic intelligence. The Chinese would not have suspected it was there even if it flew directly over their new underground/undersea nuke sub base.

And so, there'll be no F-22s for Japan -- nor any more for the U.S.

However, come 2010 the Hawaii Air National Guard will get to play with them all they want. Why this allotment of aircraft isn't going to an active USAF unit is a mystery to me. The only thing that seems to make sense is that having the aircraft based with an Air Guard Unit in our by-far most lefty state will probably afford the best opportunity for technology transfer to the Chinese.  After all, what we haven't already given or sold to them, they've pretty much managed to steal, and continue to attempt grabbing what's left. Hawaii will be the most conveniently located permanent base for the F-22s, and there are probably more than just a few Chinese-Hawaiians with relatives still living back in the Middle Kingdom. If nothing else, the situation seems ripe as espionage pickings.

With all the trillions being squandered on a whole host of diversionary and useless programs, Gates crying about "cost" and "fiscal responsibility" is, to put it mildly, hogwash. Most of the above is admittedly rather speculative.  However, considering the past actions of the Chinese who, according to the FBI, are the most likely perps behind a couple of major blackouts in the U.S., these musings are well within the bounds of possibility.

If you think not, perhaps you should have a peek at Mr. Cox's report.