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Bad Bets

1:50 PM, Sep 2, 2009 • By MICHAEL GOLDFARB
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Via the AEI blog, the Journal runs a piece by Richard Fisher looking at China's efforts to acquire a fifth-generation fighter. As Fisher points out, the F-22 was killed by the Obama administration on the grounds that, per Secretary Gates, by 2020 "nearly 1,100 [combat aircraft in the U.S. Air Force] 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." Fisher thinks Gates, and Obama, may have made a bad bet -- the Chinese have now gone on record with a supercruise requirement for their next generation of fighters, meaning they want their next generation of fighters to be real fifth-generation jets capable of engaging the top of the line of F-22.

Read Fisher's analysis on the problems the Chinese will have in building an indigenous fifth-generation fighter, and the evidence of their determination to overcome those problems, but on the assumption by Gates and Obama that the ChiComs will fail to produce such an aircraft by 2020:

his is a big gamble, and seems like a bad bet in light of China's apparent determination to push forward with its own fifth-generation program. If this bet does go south, it could cost America future air superiority in the Pacific. It could deny a key U.S. ally, Japan, a significant non-nuclear means for deterring Chinese aggression. It could also be bad for the U.S. companies like Lockheed-Martin and Boeing commercially. Washington's inability to offer a fifth-generation "champion" fighter could push South Korea and Japan to turn to French technologies to develop their own fifth-generation programs.

Mr. Gates and the U.S. intelligence community could prove to be correct, but they have so far offered little public data to explain the prediction that has served to justify such a potentially fateful decision. Meanwhile, despite the PLA's lack of meaningful transparency Beijing's own goals are crystal clear. It would be far smarter for the U.S. to prepare for the likelihood that Beijing will develop and build far more than 187 fifth-generation air-superiority fighters.

Obama and the Democrats have made a big bet, and the stakes are no less than the balance of power in the Pacific. If Obama and his allies are right, the country will have saved a few billion dollars. If they're wrong...well, better brush up on your Mandarin.