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Myths Of The Raptor

Obama's "victory" over the F-22.

2:45 PM, Jul 27, 2009 • By REUBEN F. JOHNSON
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When you are talking about modern fighter aircraft you have to remember that there will always be a certain number used for training, a certain number used for testing new weapons or on-board systems, a certain number being retrofitted with upgrades or refinements, and a certain number down for maintenance. When you subtract all of these, probably less than half of the 187 would be available at any given time for military operations.

In a major conflict such a small number of aircraft would be little more than a first day of the war silver bullet. With the developmental budget at $32 billion that is a very expensive bullet. This is not much of a return on the taxpayer's investment, to say nothing of the fact that such a small force of fighters would fall into that famous category of "if they were sent there to fight there are not enough and if they were sent to die there are too many."

Myth No. 4--It is good to cancel high-priced weapon systems like the F-22 because they are the reason for bloated defense budgets.

Big-ticket items like a high-technology fighters make an easy poster child for those that want to accuse the Pentagon of being the world's greatest spendthrift. The truth is that you could cancel every single weapons program on the armed forces' wish list and U.S. defense expenditures would still be sky-high. What represents the largest single cost in a time of major, multi-theatre, prolonged deployments are military personnel themselves. Payroll, benefits, medical, etc., are the lion's share of the budget, and will continue to grow to become an even larger share.

In terms of whether the aircraft is value for money, the numbers speak for themselves. Some 25 of the F-22s produced to date have been declared defect-free by the USAF upon delivery. "For the first fifth-generation fighter aircraft in U.S. history -- given the complexity of the aircraft, the twin-engine, thrust vectoring propulsion technology, the number of lines of computer code in the aircraft -- this is a remarkable achievement," said a Lockheed-Martin executive. "Given this accomplishment, it's a disservice to the people who designed and built the aircraft to use the F-22 as a whipping boy for this conflict between Congress and the White House."

Myth No. 5--The F-35 meets any and all conceivable technological challenges that might emerge in the next two decades.

The assertion has been made by SecDef Robert Gates that by 2020, 1,100 of the aircraft operated in the U.S. armed forces "will be the most advanced fifth-generation F-35s and F-22s. China, by contrast, is projected to have no fifth generation aircraft by 2020. And by 2025, the gap only widens. The U.S. will have approximately 1,700 of the most advanced fifth generation fighters versus a handful of comparable aircraft for the Chinese."

The difficulty with this line of reasoning is that the Chinese are not the only players in this game. Russia also continues to develop its own fifth-generation fighter, the Sukhoi design bureau's PAK-FA/T-50 project. The first model has already been delivered for validation on a structural test assembly stand. Moreover, the Sukhoi Su-35, described as a "fourth double plus-generation" aircraft is going into production soon, utilizing many of the fifth-generation T-50's components and technologies in its configuration.

Fighter aircraft performance analysts have raised questions as to whether the single-engine F-35 can take on these more powerful twin-engined aircraft and consistently prevail. Furthermore, the Chinese program, which may be developed in conjunction with Russia, stands every chance of being deployed earlier than Secretary Gate's predictions.

Finally, the F-22 was designed to replace the Boeing F-15 Eagle and become the upper tier of the U.S. Air Force's long-standing force mix of a heavy (F-15 to be replaced by the F-22) and light/medium (F-16 to be replaced by F-35) fighter aircraft. The small numbers of F-22s to be built will not be nearly enough to fill in for all of the F-15s currently in service. The future seems to be one in which a small number of F-22s will have to be supported by an aging inventory of F-15s. Keeping these older aircraft still in operation past their intended service life is going to be another increasing expense.