Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Don’t Worry, Be Happy

We have a big question about what just happened to the F-22 fighter program. As reported in airforce-magazine.com's "Daily Report," Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said halting production at 187 fighters “completes” the program as established in 2005, plus four more added by Congress. Not exactly. Not even remotely. The Air Force for at least 10 years has said that the actual requirement was 381. The 183 figure stemmed from a back-room, middle-of-the-night, no-analysis-required budget drill that was violently opposed by the Air Force and never accepted by its leaders. Moreover, Gates claimed that “the military advice that I got” was that there was “no military requirement” for more than the current number. That would be true only if he doesn’t count the Air Force as giving “military advice.” Its leadership, up to the highest levels, has said publicly and privately that the true requirement is more than 183. This raises the critical question: Was the Air Force even allowed to give "military advice" to Gates before he made his decision? If so, what, in fact, was the Air Force’s advice to the Defense Secretary? Did he report it accurately?

Raptor Cutoff: Production of the F-22 fighter will end at 187 aircraft if Defense Secretary Robert Gates has his way. Gates announced the decision in a round-up of Fiscal 2010 budget moves at a Pentagon press conference Monday. The F-22 buy “completes” the program at the 183 level set for it in 2005, plus four more added by Congress, Gates said, adding that “there is no military requirement for more.” He later said that the Air Force told him that no more were needed, which is surprising because the service has been strongly promoting its need for more F-22s and unofficially quoting 60 as the number. Even Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen has said USAF needs 60 more F-22s. Although he did not elaborate on his decision yesterday, Gates has previously criticized the F-22 as being an overly powerful machine that has been unnecessary in Iraq or Afghanistan. Gates has also asserted that the US is “dominant” in airpower. Speaking broadly about the budget—but apparently reflecting on the F-22’s superiority to similar foreign fighters now presumed to be on the drawing board—Gates said “our conventional modernization goals should be tied to the actual and prospective capabilities of known future adversaries, not by what might be technologically possible for a potential adversary given unlimited time and resources.” In another veiled reference to the F-22, Gates said, “Every dollar spent to over-insure against a remote or diminishing risk—or, in effect, to ‘run up the score’ in a capability where the United States is already dominant—is a dollar not available” for care of troops or to “win the wars we are in.” The Air Force did not provide a response when asked if its official military advice to Gates was that more F-22s are unnecessary. (Gates remarks as prepared for delivery; briefing Q&A) (From Monday's Daily Report: The Air Force Cut List)

At his press conference, Gates stated that “our conventional modernization goals should be tied to the actual and prospective capabilities of known future adversaries-not by what might be technologically feasible for a potential adversary given unlimited time and resources.” Is Gates claiming that he, or anyone else, knows who our future adversaries will be? In 1977, did he predict that Iran, led by our good friend the Shah, would within two years be an implacable enemy of the "Great Satan"? Did he have an inkling in 2000 that we we would be at war in Afghanistan within a year? If he can actually pull off this Amazing Kreskin act, why isn't he making a killing in the stock market?

1 comment:

Unknown said...

The proposed cancellation of the F-22 is a move that is incredibly short-sighted. Doing so would put US air dominance in jeopardy. The emergence of foreign fighter aircraft with an increasing qualitative advantage over the F-15 and F-16 aircraft as well as the development of fifth generation fighter aircraft such as the Sukhoi PAK-FA by potential adversaries alone makes this a foolish move. Moreover, the deployment and development of advanced integrated air defense systems creates threat environments in which US 4th generation fighters are extremely vulnerable. Stealth/low observable technology is critical to negate such IADS. The Raptor, with its amazing capabilities, is the best aircraft for destruction of enemy airspace and the achievement of air dominance during the opening moments of a conflict.
The F-35, while an amazingly capable aircraft, is not on the same level as the F-22. The F-35 lacks many of the Raptor’s capabilities, including thrust vectoring allowing supermaneuverability, supercruise, and RCS size. It is the low end of the US Air Force fifth-generation high/low mix, as was the F-16 compared with the F-15. Secretary Gates’ decision to end F-22 acquisition in favor of the F-35 would have the effect of creating a high/low mix with very little of the “high” part.
One of the many reasons the F-22 is cited as unnecessary is the widespread belief that the Raptor was designed only to take on Soviet aircraft providing air support for T-80s rolling through the Fulda Gap. This is based on the naïve view that the era of conventional warfare is over, superseded by low intensity conflict and asymmetrical warfare. If anything, the August 2008 war between the Russian Federation and the Republic of Georgia should have shattered this view as false. Insurgencies can only win against a superior force by making that force lose its will to fight. Whenever a lightly armed insurgent force engages a superior conventional force openly, the insurgents are badly mauled by the amount of firepower brought upon them. Thus, it is very difficult for an insurgent group to claim a direct victory in a conflict. Only a conventional force has the sufficient firepower to take and hold ground. What has pushed our adversaries to this type of warfare is our dominance of the conventional spectrum. Given that, why should we want to reduce this very dominance that deters our adversaries from engaging us directly? Part of the blame for this misconception lies on the Air Force, which has not done enough to promote the many capabilities of the Raptor, which, as Lt Gen David A. Deptula states, “is not just an ‘air-to-air’ platform—and here is where traditional nomenclature constrains understanding of capability—It’s not an F-22, it’s an F-, A-, B-, E-, EA-, RC-, AWACS….22.”
Another oft-cited Raptor criticism is the cost. The 2006 GAO cost estimate of $361 million per plane was one of the most cited price tags for the F-22. This cost is grossly misleading as it factors in the R&D costs, money which has already been spent and is thus irrelevant to the purchasing cost. Much better is the incremental cost, about $140 million. The comparison of cost between the F-22 and the F-35 conveniently leaves out the fact that much of the R&D for the F-22 transferred over to the F-35, with the F-22 R&D money including costs that would have been incurred by the JSF program.
There is also the argument that the F-15 is good enough, having a perfect air combat record. By this argument the USAF would still be flying the P-51: It’s good enough; it won the skies from the Luftwaffe; who needs F-80s, F-84s, F-86s, etc. This argument is also reminiscent of President Calvin Coolidge’s statement “Why don’t we just buy one airplane and let the pilots take turns flying it?”
The 381 Raptors cited as a minimum for the USAF inventory would provide for one squadron of F-22 Raptors for each Air Expeditionary Force. The number of 187 is roughly half of that. Considering that US forces plan, train, and organize with the intent of being able to fight and win two major regional conflicts simultaneously, it is obvious that this number is too low. Ideally, the F-15C aircraft would be replaced by the F-22 on a one-to-one basis. Unfortunately, in the current political climate that is unrealistic.