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Saturday, March 21, 2009

So you think we're better off spending money on pork than on keeping the F-22 Raptor production lines going?

Without air superiority, America isn't a superpower. It is exactly that simple.

"No one would dare challenge America in the air," say those who want to slash defense spending. "We don't need more cutting-edge aircraft because the ones we already have are sufficient to intimidate all of our possible opponents."

I'm sure the crewmen on the deck of the nuclear aircraft carrier USS Stennis were close enough to check for signs of "intimidation" on the faces of the "two Russian Ilyushin IL-38 'May' maritime patrol aircraft [that] overflew the USS Stennis by an altitude of 500 feet" as it led a carrier strike group off the coast of South Korea just last week. But our sailors might have needed binoculars to eyeball the "two Russian 'Bear' long range bombers [that] overflew the USS Stennis and the flagship USS Blue Ridge multiple times at an altitude of 2,000 feet" on the following day.

So how is the Obama Administration going to respond to this Russian provocation?

F-22 at base in AlaskaProbably by cutting the "funding of the last 40 F-22 Raptors (numbers 204-243) presently scheduled for construction," according to Aviation Week.

The F-22 is the world's only operational "fifth-generation" air superiority fighter, featuring stealth, super-cruise (non-afterburner powered) supersonic speed, range, maneuverability (aided by advanced thrust vectoring), efficiency (requiring less maintenance downtime than older stealth aircraft), total situational awareness and airspace data integration, and unmatched lethality — the total package, the fighter jock's wet dream. It's the kind of machine we make better than anyone else, and it's quite possibly the best current example of American technical know-how of any sort. The successor to the venerable F-15 Eagle, the Raptor stands poised to achieve the same kind of phenomenal air-to-air combat record over the next three decades that the Eagle has earned in the last three — so long as our Raptors are not overwhelmed by vast numbers of less capable, but still dangerous, fourth or fourth-and-a-half generation fighters of the sort currently being researched and produced in Russia and China.

Without absolute air superiority, America cannot conduct even humanitarian operations in dangerous parts of the world. Without absolute air superiority, our ability to project conventional power against rogue state actors — and yes, I'm thinking of one whose president's name sounds like "After Dinner Jacket," and who very much wants some nuclear toys in the worst possible way — dries up. And as America's options diminish, so do those of the entire free world. As pointed out in a recent op-ed by Dr. Rebecca Grant, an airpower specialist at the Lexington Institute,

What's of concern is whether the United States is shaping the force to meet the demands of conventional deterrence in the next 20 years. Decisions made now affect the health of the conventional deterrent because competitors are moving ahead with sophisticated systems at a pace not seen since the Cold War.

If the U.S. Air Force's F-22 fleet remains stuck at 183 aircraft, it will put future conventional deterrence abilities at risk. Commanders may not have enough of these specially designed aircraft to defeat threats with confidence, and the overall fleet life will be used up years before it should be, due to heavy tasking.

Right now, the United States has the ability to stay ahead in the conventional deterrence game by upgrading its air power with the unique capabilities of the F-22. When production ceases, the door will close. It would take many years and billions of dollars to begin a new program to surpass the F-22. Long before then, the United States could see its policy options cramped by the limits of its own military power.

Yes, I know the F-22 isn't a carrier-based fighter, and yes, the Stennis' F/A-18s intercepted the Russian planes on their way in-bound and could have splashed them at any time. Yes, I know overflights like these have been going on, in varying degrees, for decades. But that doesn't make them routine. That doesn't mean the Russians aren't sending us, and the world, an important signal.

F-22 Raptor in flightYes, the last enemy air attack on surface targets that resulted in an American soldier's or sailor's death was in the Korean War, more than 55 years ago. But if the Russians wanted to be sufficiently provocative — if they wanted to prove Joe Biden right, big-time, in his predictions about young and inexperienced Pres. Obama being "tested" early in his administration — one twitch of a Russian pilot's thumb on a pickle switch last week could have ended that particular streak pretty dramatically.

Anyone who thinks we'll be able to maintain air superiority anywhere and everywhere we like with no more than a few dozen super-advanced fighters like the F-22s that have already been delivered is an idiot. Yes, the F-22s we do have — and the incredible pilots we have to fly them — are amazing. But they're not invincible, and they can and will be overwhelmed, someday, if they're fielded in insufficient numbers. And you don't replace these machines in a month, or in six months, or in two years. We can't just switch over some Chrysler factories from making mini-vans and tool 'em up to make F-22s after the ones we have now are shot down.

You don't think Hugo Chavez would send a steady stream of oil tankers to China in exchange for a collection of fourth-generation aircraft that would let him plausibly claim an ability to deny America air superiority — even temporarily, even if only during a crisis elsewhere — in our own hemisphere?

F-22 at base in AlaskaHundreds of billions in the just-passed "stimulus act" are dedicated to projects whose economic stimulating effects are dubious at best, and that are not only not "shovel-ready," but years from even beginning. But the F-22 production lines aren't just "ready," but on-going. With the lead times involved, we need to commit now to avoid them grinding to a halt in a matter of months. And if we shut down the current F-22 production lines, we'll not only lose high-paying defense jobs (plus the secondary jobs they fund) — Lockheed Martin estimates that "95,000 jobs are at stake" — we'll lose the opportunity to enjoy the lower average per-unit cost that comes with larger and continuing production runs, a factor that was important to the initial planning for these aircraft.

We daren't put F-22s into the hands of, say, our "friends" the Saudis, but we've got absolutely reliable allies like Australia who need, and who'd very much like to buy, F-22s from us now, before the F-35 multi-purpose fighter (planned for broader distribution among American allies) comes online. Two U.S. studies have reportedly assessed the risks of F-22 technology being compromised through sales to Australia, the U.K., or Canada as being minimal. So let's sell a squadron to Oz, and see if the Brits and Canadians are also interested!

And Obama will indeed be able to find true bipartisan support if he extends F-22 production. Michael Fumento wrote in the Washington Times on March 1, 2009, that "[l]ast month, 44 U.S. senators, including Edward Kennedy and John Kerry, sent the president a letter requesting an additional order of unspecified size to prevent the planned 2011 shutdown." Those two names are almost enough to make me re-think my position, but this may be one of those occasions when constituents' job concerns have actually motivated the two Massachusetts senators to do the right thing.

F-22 at sunsetThere are at least four Russian aircrews who are probably still working off a week-long celebratory drunk before returning to their training. They almost certainly have new medals, and they're sharing with their buddies some snapshots of American naval aircraft and vessels for which they needed no telephoto lenses. Have no doubt: The training they will return to is expressly designed to prepare them to sink American ships and shoot down American aircraft. And the militarists in their government — and those in the Chinese government, and those in every other country in the world who'd like to see the end of American air superiority — are celebrating with them.

Ronald Reagan damn sure knew how to address that problem, and indeed military spending helped pull us out of the recession of the early 1980s. And Obama desperately needs to find a dose of The Right Stuff somewhere; this could be it. The Obama Administration and Congress ought to respond to this Russian provocation by redirecting some of the most obviously wasteful spending from the "stimulus" package to guarantee continued production of the Raptor, in quantities that won't leave us gambling on American air superiority against any challengers or circumstances.

(All photos in this post are © Lockheed Martin, but I hope they won't mind my "fair use" of them for this public commentary. At least two of them were shot in Alaska — you know, at those air bases where we keep our best fighters to regularly intercept military aircraft from Russia — a real and genuine potential threat from a real and serious potential enemy, no matter how many people make ill-informed and bigoted jokes about whether Sarah Palin can see them from her porch or not.)

Posted by Beldar at 05:59 AM in Congress, Current Affairs, Global War on Terror, Obama, Politics (2009), Technology/products | Permalink


Other weblog posts, if any, whose authors have linked to So you think we're better off spending money on pork than on keeping the F-22 Raptor production lines going? and sent a trackback ping are listed here:


(1) Old Coot made the following comment | Mar 21, 2009 2:48:55 PM | Permalink

Never fear, Obama's unicorns will protect us.

(2) HasItBeen4YearsYet? made the following comment | Mar 22, 2009 3:53:02 AM | Permalink

Look, Obama has everything under control, so what's to worry about?

So just stop making fun of him, OK?

(3) Michael made the following comment | Mar 22, 2009 11:02:52 AM | Permalink

So next time the Republicans don't pick a VP candidate that just appeals to social conservatives, OK?

(4) El Gordo made the following comment | Mar 22, 2009 11:38:21 AM | Permalink

Yes Michael, let´s blame Republicans for the choices of a Democrat administration and Congress. Let´s not blame Democrats for picking an inexperienced candidate who puts ideology über alles.

If it were true that people got so scared at the sight of a pro-lifer (whose values are in truth fairly middle-of-the-road) that they simply HAD to vote for Obama, then they ought to stand by their choice.

If keeping a social conservative out of the VP job is worth a couple of trillions, a bloated federal government and the defense of the United States to them, then what are they complaining about? They are getting exactly what they want.

(5) Phelps made the following comment | Mar 22, 2009 1:44:25 PM | Permalink

The problem is that weapons system spending is a curious creature -- it is good for America, but the results can't be seen until long after the president that allowed it has been reelected and is out of office. We fought Desert Storm and Iraqi Freedom on Reagan's military, not GWB's or even Clinton's. (And if Reagan had been forced to confront the Soviets, he would have had to do it with Carter's military.)

If Barry has to pick between what is good for America and what is good for Barry, America is going to lose every time.

(6) HasItBeen4YearsYet? made the following comment | Mar 22, 2009 3:26:12 PM | Permalink

"So next time the Republicans don't pick a VP candidate that just appeals to social conservatives, OK?" -- MIchael

So, next time vote Republican no matter who they pick, because it HAS to be better than the Demoncratic alternative!"

(7) The Drill SGT made the following comment | Mar 22, 2009 5:37:45 PM | Permalink

Beldar, fixed one sentence:

And if we shut down the current F-22 production lines, we'll not only lose high-paying UNION defense jobs (plus the secondary jobs they fund)

(8) Beldar made the following comment | Mar 22, 2009 5:59:18 PM | Permalink

Michael (#3 Mar 22, 2009 11:02:52 AM): Thank for the comment, and I understand your point. But you've definitely come to the wrong blog to argue that the choice of Gov. Palin as the GOP Veep nominee was a bad one.

What happened during the 2008 election was that the Democrats, the Hard Left, and — especially — their slavish adherents who make up 95%+ of the mainstream media had considerable success in peddling an image of Gov. Palin that was at odds with her actual record and beliefs. If you were a regular reader of this blog going back into June of last year, you'd have at your fingertips the empirical proof of that. Or, perhaps I should say, if the segment of the voting public who swallowed the lies about her had instead been regular readers here — or of any other source that examined and discussed her record and beliefs fairly and objectively — they would have recognized the lies and come away with a different picture.

I grant you that there were substantial numbers of voters who instead swallowed the lies, but I do not accept your implied argument that Gov. Palin being on the ticket cost the GOP the election — much less your further stretch in suggesting that her having been on the ticket is responsible for the Obama Administration's ineptitude and hard-left policies! To the contrary, I'm quite confident that Gov. Palin's presence on the ticket was the only thing that rallied tens of millions of conservatives to hold their noses and vote for McCain. Without her on the ticket, Obama might have even carried Texas and several other strong red states.

Most of the people who bought into the lies about Palin also bought into the Obama hopey-changitude schtick, and they did both for exactly the same reason: They're naïve and gullible. Now, with The One's ineptitude spread all over the media — not because they've started reporting fairly, but because he's not doing anything that's not inept right now! — they're being forced out of their illusions about him. Time will tell whether they'll re-evaluate Gov. Palin, but she's only one of many very promising young GOP leaders who are going to be offering alternatives to Obama, Reid, Pelosi, and the Hard Left. So I'm very, very optimistic about the future of my party.

(9) HasItBeen4YearsYet? made the following comment | Mar 22, 2009 11:20:54 PM | Permalink

"Palin's presence on the ticket was the only thing that rallied tens of millions of conservatives to hold their noses and vote for McCain."

That's exactly why I voted for Palin, ....and that other guy.

(10) Milhouse made the following comment | Mar 23, 2009 12:42:56 AM | Permalink

#9 wrote: "That's exactly why I voted for Palin, ....and that other guy."

Me too. I put it exactly that way, when I went to vote. If I had a way to vote for her and not him, I'd have done so. And before he picked her I had not intended to vote for him at all.

(11) Mark L made the following comment | Mar 23, 2009 6:06:16 PM | Permalink

Truly amazing how idiots focus on the bottom of one Presidential ticket as a justification for not choosing that slate while completely ignoring the even weaker candidate on the top of the other ticket. And while the bottom of that ticket had considerable time in D. C., no one ever stated the bottom of the Democratic ticket was really any smarter than the bottom of the Republican ticket.

I mean Joe Biden? Does anyone really think Joe Biden has more on the ball than Sarah Palin? If you do, then you deserve the President and VP that we currently have because stupidity like that deserves to be punished.

(12) Legal Aid made the following comment | Mar 24, 2009 12:08:28 AM | Permalink

Air power has been proven effective and efficient every time America goes to war. Air support has been a tremendous contribution in making America from threat of war or destruction.

(13) Donnie made the following comment | Apr 4, 2009 4:37:50 AM | Permalink

Compare the cost of the F-22 Raptor to the MQ-1 Predator. You can have 30 Predators for the price of one F-22.

(14) Beldar made the following comment | Apr 4, 2009 6:07:27 AM | Permalink

Donnie (#13): There's definitely a place for unmanned aircraft in our future mix. But the Predator isn't designed for air superiority, and its Hellfire missiles are air-to-surface missiles. Thirty, sixty, or six hundred Predators couldn't do the job of a single F-22 because they have different jobs.

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