A Win-Win Deal for the F-22
12:02 PM, Apr 27, 2007 • By MICHAEL GOLDFARB
The president headed to Camp David today with Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe. Following an "intimate" dinner last night at the White House, where the two leaders were joined by their wives, their respective ambassadors, and golfer Ben Crenshaw, they will spend today discussing a range of issues at the presidential retreat--balancing against China and managing a nuclear North Korea are likely at the top of that list.
As Duncan Currie wrote in this week's issue of THE WEEKLY STANDARD, "the [U.S.-Japan] alliance remains structurally robust." But there is at least one rather simple way that the president might strengthen that alliance and go a long way toward balancing against China and North Korea: provide the Japanese with access to the F-22 Raptor--the world's most advanced air superiority fighter.
As things stand now, sale of the F-22 to foreign governments requires Congressional oversight and approval, but an agreement between the two leaders would likely assure Congressional support for such an arrangement.
According to Aviation Week, acquiring the F-22 has become "a point of pride with the Japanese" military, but one industry source quoted by the magazine says that Japanese politicians have yet to "realize that it's a matter of national survival, not just national pride."
We've written here before on the impact such a sale might have on the balance of power in the Pacific--in short, there's little or no downside, other than rankling the Chinese. And the aircraft would be a significant boost to Japan's ability to deter aggression--or project power in the event that deterrence fails. But there's a huge upside for the American military as well.
The F-22 is not only the world's most advanced fighter, it's also the most expensive. So expensive that the Pentagon has cut its initial order of 750 aircraft down to a paltry 183. As the Pentagon cut numbers, the unit cost of the aircraft rose, forcing the Pentagon to make further cuts, and so on, in a vicious cycle referred to as "the death spiral."
Of course, much of the cost comes from research and development--meaning that billions are spent before the first plane is even built. Now that full-scale production is under way, the marginal cost of building additional copies is significantly less that the average cost of each aircraft. So while the government may end up paying as much as $312 million, on average, for each F-22 in the inventory, the marginal cost of producing one more F-22 might be as little as $132 million.
An article by SSgt C. Todd Lopez that appeared in the Air Force Print News this week gives what may be the best account I've read on the cost breakdown of the F-22.
General Lewis also says that 183 F-22s just isn't enough: