Article Published in the Defense News
The biggest problem with the news media is that if something isn’t new, then it probably isn’t news. No matter how important information may be in the total scheme of things, if it’s already known then there isn’t much incentive for journalists to report it again. You don’t win the PulitzerPrize by rehashing old stories.
The media’s endless search for novelty is one reason why many Americans know more about Jerry Springer than they do about Alexander Hamilton. Hamilton’s more important, but Jerry’s always coming up with something new and outrageous to do. Hamilton hasn’t had a new idea since 1804 (when he died in a duel).
If you apply this perverse dynamic to defense coverage, it’s easy to see why even the most successful programs seem to be constantly embroiled in controversy. The really important facts — threats, requirements, missions, etc. — have long since been reported. So the defense beat consists mostly of reporting whatever new happened last week — particularly if it wasn’t expected to happen.
That means a lot of defense reporting consists of trivia, and negative trivia at that. Consider the F-22 Raptor fighter. If you’ve been following the program for some time, you know that it’s the world’s first stealthy air-superiority fighter; that it’s the Air Force’s top modernization priority; and that it is far superior in technology and performance to the F-15 Eagle it will replace.
But is that the message readers get from day-to-day coverage of the F-22? Well, not exactly. The more common themes are rising costs, problems in the test program, and so on. It’s pretty hard to figure out from the coverage that the Raptor is critically important to Air Force plans and progressing quite nicely.
Reporters often don’t take contractors seriously when they try to accent the positive, and let’s face it, the Air Force’s core competencies do not include public relations. With that in mind, I’d like to suggest a few leads for future F-22 writings to get some balance back into the coverage. They’re new to most readers, they’re interesting – – and oh, by the way,they’re true.
ARMY BIGGEST WINNER IN F-22 PROGRAM — Although the U.S. Army isn’t generally considered a hotbed of support for the F-22, it may be the fighter’s biggest beneficiary. Not one American soldier has been killed by hostile aircraft since the Korean War. And if the Air Force’s latest air-superiority fighter is fielded in a timely fashion, U.S. soldiers’ safety from air attack should continue decades into the next century.
HIGH COST OF RAPTOR DEBUNKED — Critics who complain the F-22 costs twice as much as the F-15 it will replace are in for a surprise: it actually costs less. Two-thirds of fighter costs are incurred after production, in the form of maintenance, munitions and other support costs. The Raptor requires half the maintenance personnel and one-third the maintenance of an F-15; it will do twice as many sorties between major breakdowns and can be turned around for combat 30% faster. Because it’s stealthy it can use cheaper munitions to attack surface targets, needs less support in combat and will suffer less attrition. The bottom line: it saves money.
SIX WRENCHES TO FIX $8 MILLION ENGINE — When most people think about the F-22, they focus on combat performance. When engine maker Pratt & Whitney thinks about the F-22, it also considers cost of ownership. So the 3,000 pound, $8 million F-119 engine it developed for the F-22 can be fixed with only six wrenches. And they’re not of the $600 hammer variety, they’re like the ones anybody can buy at WalMart. The new engine makes the Raptor easier to fix than any other fighter — not to mention able to fly farther and faster with less fuel consumption.
“TOO MANY NEW FIGHTERS” A MYTH — Critics who claim the Pentagon is developing three redundant new fighters while neglecting other needs clearly don’t understand the programs. It’s true there are three new planes that are all called fighters, but they have different missions. The Joint Strike Fighter is designed mostly for ground attack, and the F/A-18 Super Hornet is a multimission, carrier-based tactical aircraft. Only the F-22 is optimized to be the best air-superiority fighter in the world for the next three decades. If it goes away, there’s nothing credible to take its place.
F-22 COST BURDEN WILDLY OVERSTATED — If you’re troubled by the budgetary burden the F-22 will impose on taxpayers, then the cost of some other government programs will probably make you faint. According to Pentagon estimates, it will cost $48 billion to develop and build the F-22 in 1990 dollars (the “base year” when the program began). That’s not much more than the $46 billion the General Accounting Office says was wasted — not spent, just wasted — in the Medicare program in 1996 and 1997 alone. The $2 billion spent on the Raptor this year is about ten hours worth of federal spending at current rates — not a bad deal for preserving U.S. air superiority through 2030.
The scary thing about all this “good news” is that you can easily construct similarly positive stories about other maligned aircraft like the Super Hornet, the B-2 bomber, or the C-130J transport. So if most of what you know about these programs is negative, maybe that tells you more about the news business than it does about the aircraft.
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