Today the United States Senate voted to remove funding for the F-22 out of the Defense bill. President Obama had been threatening to veto the annual defense bill if the Senate left the funding intact. The Senate caved and now the future for the F-22 is very uncertain, if not quite grim.
This is an unfortunate vote to say the least. The F-22, while a very expensive aircraft, restored America's place in air superiority. Advances by the Russians in the 80s and 90s produced the MiG 29 and Su-27 platforms. These planes have greatly closed the capability gaps and both planes are a match for our air force. More worrisome is that the Russians are selling the technology world wide. China is currently making their own version of the Su-27 called the J-11 and Chavez's Venezuela has bought the Su-27 to bully their neighbors when convenient.
The main problem here is that the United States Air Force has been using planes that are getting old and older. The average age of a plane in the Air Force in 2001 (prior to combat usage) was 22 years old. Since the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Air Force has endured seven years of constant combat usage - a much higher rate than peace time use. Aging air frames and constant use is beginning to take its toll. Evidence of this fact came to light in November 2007 when an F-15 fighter literally broke apart in mid air (F-15 fleet grounded after a jet falls apart). In light of this accident the Department of Defense grounded the entire F-15 fleet - our air superiority fleet - to figure out what we already knew. It is time for new planes.
The debate over new planes is circulating around the F-35 and the F-22. The consensus point of view is to kill the F-22 and keep the multi-role F-35 alive. The F-35 is supposed to be cheaper than the F-22 and more versatile. But based on the planes it is slated to replace, the F-16, F-18, and the A-10 it is clear that the F-35 is strike fighter - not an air superiority fighter. The F-15 for years ruled the skies and it appears that it now has no heir and we are trying to have it both ways by hoping a single air craft can be all things to all missions.
But there is a starker difference between the F-22 and the F-35. If a situation arose tomorrow that required dominant air superiority, only the F-22 would be firing the at the enemy. The F-35 is still in production and its cost overruns are growing daily. So I see little wisdom in cutting funding for a plane that is currently in the fight and pinning our hopes on a plane that may or may not get the job done as we hope.
The President is also very pleased that we cut $1.75 billion dollars out of the budget. "I reject the notion that we have to waste billions of taxpayer dollars on outdated and unnecessary defense projects to keep this nation secure," Obama said in a Rose Garden event at the White House. "That's why I've taken steps to greatly reduce no-bid defense contracts. That's why I've signed overwhelmingly bipartisan legislation to limit cost overruns on weapons systems before they spiral out of control. And that's why I'm grateful that the Senate just voted against an additional $1.75 billion to buy F-22 fighter jets that military experts and members of both parties say we do not need. "
Secretary of Defense Gates is also against the F-22 due to costs. He would rather put that money toward other projects and other capabilities. I disagree with this rationale because it presumes that we are only going to have to worry about fighting non-traditional battles against terrorist enemies. This is an idea, that in my opinion, was put to rest when Russia invaded Georgia in August of 2008. We have to prepare for all wars, not the ones we'd prefer to fight. And we certainly cannot afford to gamble away our ability to control the skies with the F-22.
At a time when the Obama administration is trying to nationalize the entire economy, I find it interesting that he chose to kill the F-22 and increase unemployment almost overnight by possibly thousands of jobs. More specifically, The LA Times stated "The F-22 program is directly responsible for 25,000 jobs at Lockheed and its major suppliers. But Lockheed officials say when jobs from sub-suppliers are added in, the F-22 program maintains 95,000 jobs in 44 states." By the way, if you lose your job and you'd like to know who screwed you on the vote, follow this link: Senators who voted with the President to make America less safe.
Another reason that the F-22 is not in people's good graces is because Iraq and Afghanistan do not have an Air Force to suppress. But Democrats have viewed the war on terror through a drinking straw and their rationale has been that war is exclusive to those two countries. But China, Russia, and India all have advanced Air Forces and they are all looking to expand - especially Russia in the Artic region. Clearly this is not the time to give up our advantage.
So while the F-22 may not have killed any enemies, it seems that it will be a casualty of friendly fire. A sad ending to Air Force's "almost" new crown jewel.