Sensing that Air Force leadership has been weakened by recent controversies, proponents of “real” transformation in the Office of the Secretary of Defense are once again asking questions about the F/A-22 Raptor. They want the Air Force to explain why 300 of the next-generation fighters are needed to cope with projected threats in 2010 and 2020.
Nobody knows what enemies we will face in 2020. That’s why defense plans are supposed to be “capabilities-based” rather than threat-based. Unfortunately, much of official thinking about transformation is grounded in unacknowledged, subjective ideas about future threats. That bias leads policymakers to claim that victory in Iraq demonstrates “the power of jointness” and the “unique leverage provided by special forces” — while barely noticing that the campaign would have been a disaster without air dominance. Apparently the time has come to remind policymakers why Raptor is essential to national security. Let’s make it simple for all the liberal-arts majors.
1. The reason no U.S. soldier has been killed by enemy aircraft in half a century is that U.S. fighters control the skies over war zones.
2. The reason no U.S. aircraft has been shot down by enemy aircraft in a quarter century is that U.S. fighters are the best in the world.
3. Without air dominance, U.S. bombers, transports, tankers and electronic aircraft would be unable to operate in hostile airspace.
4. Without air dominance, it would be impossible to apply other facets of U.S. warfighting skill effectively.
5. The current top-of-the-line U.S. fighter, the F-15C, was designed 30 years ago and no longer surpasses the performance of foreign fighters.
6. Many F-15C’s are so old that their insulation is rotting and metal fatigue limits maneuvers.
7. Non-stealthy aircraft like the F-15C are highly vulnerable to surface-to-air missiles being deployed by dozens of countries.
8. The only alternative to the F/A-22 is the Joint Strike Fighter, which was not designed to accomplish the air dominance mission.
9. By the time the Joint Strike Fighter enters production (assuming it does), it will seem just as out-of-date as critics now claim the F/A-22 is.
10. Over half of the $62 billion cost for the F/A-22 program has already been spent, and production aircraft are performing almost perfectly.
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