Should We Base F-22 Restart on Ideology?
Yes we do want America to be great again. And yes we do think Donald Trump's commitment to a strong America, which he outlined on Wednesday, April 27th in an important foreign policy speech, makes great sense. But no we do not agree with the Washington Times that wants to restart production of the F-22 to demonstrate that America's greatness is at hand. Moreover the malady is spreading: now the Wall Street Journal is beating the same drum, aiming perhaps to fleece America.
Don't make a mistake: the F-22 is a terrific airplane. Its stealth characteristics are the best in the world in a fighter jet. It is an aircraft with strategic value because it can operate in enemy airspace and avoid detection by enemy radar.
On the other hand, despite how potent it is, the F-22 is not a tactical aircraft. It is far too expensive to use in a tactical environment. A recent exercise in the UK where the F-22 was being demonstrated in a close support role is a wrong use of this mighty platform. In its essence the F-22 is a strategic airplane that, if it was necessary, can match or better anything the Russians or the Chinese have or will have in the foreseeable future.
In fact, the Russians are not going down the same road in building their fifth generation stealthy fighter, known as the Su-50 PAK FA. Instead their fifth generation plane is a blend of tactical and strategic features and an evolution of the successful Su-35, itself a very significant 4++ generation platform. Today the Su-50 PAK FA remains a prototype, awaiting new engines still under development and a new radar that is not quite at the stage of maturity to go into the airplane. And the number of airplanes the Russians will build will be far fewer than the number of F-22's already in service. In short, it looks like the Russian airplane is not directly challenging the F-22 or its potential dominance in a conflict.
Among US fighter planes, the F-22 is the only platform that is not exportable by law. But even if it was exportable, hardly anyone could afford it. Only Japan really wanted the F-22 and was forced to settle for the F-35. Indeed the F-22 is a ghastly expensive platform that costs somewhere around $377 million per copy (but probably a lot more if it is revived). It is also very expensive to operate at $68,362 per flight hour (also probably more since these 2011 figures were generated) and hard to maintain. Its stealth coating is, itself, a big headache because it does not survive well; and its electronics are subject to short circuits in humid environments.
But, even if the plane was trouble free and cheaper, do we need to build more? Is it our top priority? Hardly. Like the F-35, the F-22 is not really suitable or needed for most tactical missions.
The United States Air Force has made a huge bet on both the F-22 and the F-35, leaving no room for any other modern platform and trusting that these very smart machines can do any job. The reality is they cannot do any job. (The latest Air Force gambit to test the A-10 against the F-35 is an example of how far the Air Force will go to lie to itself.) Much has been written about oxygen delivery problems, pilot blackouts, and related problems not fully resolved.
Long neglected has been the tactical needs on the battlefield which simply are not met by the F-35 and are not the role of the F-22.
Defense dollars are no longer an infinite resource, and cost effectiveness is only a slogan in the Pentagon, far removed from any reality.
America should be building a new generation of close support aircraft that are robust and effective. Stealth, itself, is not needed because a close support aircraft will be in the cross hairs of enemy missiles and guns. It has to survive on the battle field --like the A-10 which is beginning to run up against its service life end point.
A modern A-10 needs advanced countermeasures to ward off missiles of all kinds. These are largely missing from the current generation.
The A-10 was originally designed and built to destroy enemy armor, ground equipment and hardened installations. It is an effective but not necessarily an ideal platform against slippery terrorists.
America today faces two kinds of potential threats: strategic threats and tactical ones, mainly in third countries. Money spent on a new aircraft for this purpose would make sense.
As for the F-22 there is no reason to hurry to put it back in production because there is no near term viable challenger to the 187 F-22's we now have. But it would be nice if their use is confined to missions they were designed to perform.
The Congress, which is increasingly skeptical of the F-35, sees the F-22 as some sort of savior to the F-35 dilemma. But it is not the answer. If we want an alternative to the F-35 we should be looking at a new generation of F-15's such as Boeing's proposed Silent Eagle. This is relatively affordable (and against the F-35 significantly so) and could easily run rings around the suspect F-35. Congress should get serious and take a look at the Boeing offer, before Boeing goes out of the fighter jet business, leaving only Lockheed and America beholden to only one major supplier.