The Demise of the F-22 Raptor: The Story Behind the Story

F-22 new

By now, most of the stories behind the dazzling rise and ignominious demise of a proud, magnificent bird, the F-22 Raptor, have been told.

Stories about the brilliant design and cutting edge manufacturing and assembly technology. A technology that has been described as “the only thing more complex than the human body.” (I was fortunate to visit the “mile-long” Lockheed Martin F-16 assembly line; the F-22 line must be even more spectacular.)

Stories about the awesome performance of the world’s most capable, most powerful and most sophisticated fifth-generation fighter aircraft—but a combat aircraft that has never seem combat.

Stories about the absolute air supremacy that a fleet of nearly 400 of these aircraft—along with approximately 2,400 “next generation” F-35s—would provide our nation, enabling us to fight two major wars simultaneously against any superpowers.

But also stories about technical setbacks, schedule slips, cost overruns; about budget battles and cuts, politics at the highest levels, intense lobbying, economics and economic hard times. About the severe economic impact cancellation of the F-22 would have on defense aerospace manufacturers in 46 states and on an already flailing economy. Job losses close to 100,000 at a cost of more than $12 billion in national economic activity were predicted as a result of the F-22 program cancellation.

Also, stories about how, during the Cold War, with all the threats and fears that marked that period, the massive F-22 program was launched calling for over 600 of these advanced aircraft, only to see the Soviet Union collapse a mere seven months after contracts were awarded for the F-22. The end of the Cold War, the demise of the Soviet Union, and the changing nature of warfare made such large number of F-22s “unnecessary” in the minds of many.

Finally, perhaps the most important story. The story of “the most radical secdef in generations, upending the politics of national security…and defying the military-industrial complex.” In other words the story of a man who laid out his vision of how future “complex, hybrid wars” will be fought and what will be required to win those wars; a man who is solidly in charge and has the guts to say “no” both to his generals and to his politicians.

It is said that there’s always a story behind the story. In the case of the saga of the F-22 Raptor, there are many. In my opinion, no one has told them better than Fred Kaplan.

In a recent article in Newsweek Kaplan gives us a pretty good preview of his story behind the story in his opening paragraph:

For more than 60 years the Air Force has trumpeted itself as the service of glamour, its pilots ruling the skies, soaring, diving, bombing, and strafing from far above—yet still commanding the clash of armies on the ground. In movies, they wore white scarves and set the girls’ hearts aflutter.

We learn about the fierce fight that is on “for the mission, culture, and identity of the Air Force,” where “the Top Guns are losing,”

Kaplan tells us about the “intense, almost messianic passion” by senior Air Force officers pushing the F-22.

He tells us how to defenders of the F-22, the Air Force means “fast, agile planes dogfighting high in the sky,” and how, to them, killing the F-22 was” tantamount to killing the Air Force.”

Kaplan goes back into the history and into the culture of U.S. Air Force leadership. We learn that from 1947 to 1982, all 10 generals who served as Air Force chief of staff were bomber pilots. Then, from 1982 until 2008, all nine generals who served in that position were fighter pilots. Finally, how in 2008, as a new era in warfare was beginning, Secretary Gates asked President Bush to appoint “a different kind of chief of staff: “Gen. Norton Schwartz. A man who came up through the ranks flying neither bombers nor fighters but C-130s, the bulky cargo planes that haul troops, weapons, and supplies from bases and supply depots to the battlefront.” According to Kaplan, the Air Force brass had never valued the unglamorous yet vital airlift mission as highly as the “missions that involve fast combat planes or bombing targets deep behind enemy lines—until now.”

Schwartz’ appointment came after Gates got his chance to “nudge the naysayers aside” in June 2008, when two Air Force scandals erupted—the mistaken shipment of electrical fuses for ballistic-missile warheads to Taiwan and the case of a strategic bomber flying over U.S. territory carrying live nukes. Gates used the opportunity to fire Air Force Chief of Staff, Gen. T. Michael Moseley and the Secretary of the Air Force, Michael Wynne.

Kaplan suggests, and probably rightly so, that the nature of past wars and conflicts have influenced the rise of certain kinds of military leaders and have stimulated the thought of such leadership.

According to Kaplan, during the most intense period of the Cold War, “much higher status was given to pilots of nuclear bombers.” Then, the Vietnam War “paved the way for the rise of the fighter pilot.” However, the Iraq and Afghanistan wars are now demanding a new Air Force culture—part of this new culture are the UAV “pilots.”

The rest of Kaplan’s article delves into the importance and urgency Gates places on the development, production and use of UAVs (Predators, Reapers, Global Hawks, Sky Warrior Alphas, etc.) in present and future conflicts.

UAVs have already proved their value during the Yugoslavian conflict and during the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan. They continue to perform superbly in Iraq and in Afghanistan.

Yet, there was and is resistance to the development and use of UAVs by Air Force Brass, “because they are not very sexy,” because of the attitude: “Airplanes without pilots in them? That’s not what we’re about!”

Kaplan recalls how a half century ago, “Gen. Curtis LeMay, the first head of the Strategic Air Command, opposed development of the intercontinental ballistic missile, which he feared would supplant the long-range bomber. He didn’t want the Air Force to become, he said, ‘the silent silo-sitters of the ’60s.’”

Finally, Kaplan looks at a “developing” story.

It is the story about how those who “fly” the UAVs will no longer have to be pilots, and about the prediction by C. R. Anderegg, the Air Force historian, that “just as the generals of the 1950s and ’60s were predominantly bomber pilots, and the generals of the 1970s and ’80s were mainly fighter pilots, so a lot of the generals in the coming decades may be UAV joystick pilots”:

It’s going to be pretty hard for a promotion board, picking the next one-star generals, to pick a colonel who hasn’t commanded a UAV wing over a colonel who has. The UAV commander has the experience, and he has a larger, less insular view of the battlefield than, say, an F-22 pilot at Langley.

By the way, the White House’s defense-budget request for fiscal 2010 includes approximately $3.5 billion for unmanned aerial vehicles.

The handwriting is on the Pentagon’s wall.

To read this fascinating story behind the story please click here.

Kaplan is the National-Security Columnist for Slate and the author of 1959: The Year Everything Changed.

Author: DORIAN DE WIND, Military Affairs Columnist

14 Comments

  1. The F-22 is a wonderful plane for what it does, but we likely don't need the extra expense and the F-35 is a very good fighter in its own right and much cheaper.

  2. UAVs. I KNEW the military would be customized to fit the Nintendo Generation somehow!
    LOL

    My eight-year old could be a Colonel in the AirForce by the time he's ten.

  3. The President must purchase things “with the budget he has, not the budget he wants”. What he wanted was the budget President Clinton left to President Bush. What he “has” was left to him by President Bush. Obviously this previous distraction’s policy was to spend, spend, spend, on defense and not much else. Such is the military politics of the right, were their government philosophy is that the federal government is supposed to defend the nation, but not much else. Unfortunately the infrastructure that supports the military is crumbling due to republican neglect. Generally the “borrow and spend” republican national financial policies have saddled the nation with such debt that we may not be able to repair our infrastructure. I don’t think we need a map to see where that road leads.

  4. It absolutely astounds me to hear a liberal say: “”Generally the 'borrow and spend' republican national financial policies….”

    You're right. Why borrow and spend for military, when we can borrow, tax, and spend to provide socialist programs?

    I actually agreed with portions of your argument. Borrow and spend is wrong always, and is unconstitional to boot. BOTH parties have been guilty of that for a long, long time.

  5. JD, I've posted it many times, but ALWAYS appreciate the opportunity to post it again. The National Debt is entirely a Republican creation. We had paid down much of the WWII debt when Carter left office with $ ONE Trillion in debt. Reagan, the architect of “borrow and spend” economics, TRIPLED the national debt. Bush I added another trillion plus. After 6 years of Republican rule, we had QUADRUPLED the national debt. As a % of GDP, Clinton started reducing it again, leaving Bush II a massive surplus. Bush ballooned the debt with record breaking deficits. Sadly, now we are hamstrung in our ability to spend on ANYTHING, military or social. That's because YOU (if you pay taxes) and I owe $237 EVERY MONTH in interest on that debt. Look at your total tax bill and think about that; about how much servicing the REPUBLICAN national debt costs us. And that $237 a month doesn't pay ONE DIME of principle. Just interest. What a fine mess you guys created for our kids.

    http://zfacts.com/p/318.html

    All figures are from the White House (including the Reagan, Bush and Bush administrations).

  6. “”Generally the 'borrow and spend' republican national financial policies….”

    Considering how long its been since the GOp really stuck to its fiscal conservative guns accross the board, it doesn't surprise me, its a well deserved title, even if the Democrats do it to too. I'm happy to see the GOP criticized on this, they need a kick in the pants here.

  7. I don't think you even understand what exactly borrow and spend means, nor exactly what our national debt is and whom it is owed too.

    Half our budget is now military. We cannot sustain that without investing in our infrastructure. Half of nothing is still nothing!

    If we don't invest in education, get the horendous cost of healthcare off our people's backs, and, start creating jobs then there will be no “half the budget” to support the militay with.

    Beside you are the enemy of the United States from another thread. So I understand why you want to destroy the United States.

  8. I understand the debt. But thanks for speaking slow for me.
    I understand the the defense budget could be smaller IF we stopped meddling around the world.

    Spend on education? I'm with you.
    Healthcare? Ditto, as long as you fix the PROBLEM and not merely wish to install a government-run bureaucracy.
    Creat jobs? It's not the government's job to create jobs. It is private industry's job to do that – based upon innovation and supply and demand. The only government that “creates” jobs is a communist one.

    “enemy” of the US? You're retarded. But if it makes you feel better about your socialist fantasies, go ahead. I've got big shoulders.

  9. Regardless of the party, Deficit spending is WRONG. We're did it under most Presidents. It's unconstitutional. This is not a partisan ideal. You should know by now that I am a Democrat, so this is not GOP vs DNC to me. We borrowed and spent for good reasons and bad, but it is always wrong. We continue to do so under the Obama Administration. It was wrong under Reagan, Bush, and Obama.

    Just remember one thing. The budget is a product of the executive branch. However, it takes a Congress to approve it. And which party was in control of the Congress during those times when deficit spending was authorized?

    (You'll notice that I “dis” my own party frequently – that's because I'm a conservative democrat).

  10. JD, as to Congress' culpability, it's there, but not as you think. Congress actually reined in Reagan's spending, not the other way around. Reagan's own OMB and CBO admitted that the deficits and debt would have been far worse had Congress approved Reagan's plan in its entirety. Every president since WWII has reduced the WWII war debt, except Reagan, Bush and Bush. They set the agenda, and they approved the budget. They signed every single spending bill during their administrations. So the buck does indeed stop at the President's desk.

  11. I agree with you on the executive accountability of the debt. I merely mentioned Congress because both parties have ruled it and have had at least a slight hand in driving debt upward. Unlike Bill Clinton, the Obama Administration is going through the roof, much like the GOP examples you gave.

    As I said, deficit or borrow-and-spend spending is against the Constitution. Wrong for all parties.
    The buck does, indeed, stop at the President's desk….but it makes a pitstop in Congress.

  12. Kaplan's article is best rebutted by an anonymous AF Air Staff Officer blog I read the other day:

    Allow me to share with you some very, very random thoughts that this piece raises in my mind.

    Perhaps the main concern is that the article reflects that we have lost the public 'narrative' on some important concepts, so stereotypes and misconceptions flourish.

    Kaplan – like many others – likes to point out that fighter pilots dominated the CSAF position in the last decade. Well, if one looks at the Navy, I suspect its leadership has been largely surface warfare officers, and the Army has been led largely by infantry/armor officers. Yet our sister services are never harangued as we are about this illusory “fighter mafia” canard. The fact is that all the CSAFs have been vastly less 'tribal' than is popularly supposed.

    What is particularly distasteful is Kaplan's suggestion that the so-called “fighter mafia” who allegedly controlled the Air Force promoted fighter aircraft simply because of the “glamour” of the single-seat airplane.
    Incredibly, what began as a joke, seems to be taken seriously. In truth, it is really an insult to the patriotism and martial qualities of our Airmen, and we should say so.

    Wouldn't people say something if we denigrated Special Forces with the notion that they do it only because they are seeking Rambo-like “glamour”?
    Is that why Pat Tillman joined up, so he could have the “glamour” of serving in an “elite” unit? Should we take the discussion of “Yellow Fruit” in books like “Killer Elite” to define the values of Special Operators as thieves?

    Furthermore, why isn't the “you-are-keeping-it-just-for-the-glamour”
    narrative applicable to our sister services? Consider that the Army, for example, continues to waste billions on training and maintaining airborne forces even though there is no military reason to train tens of thousands of soldiers to be paratroopers. Sure, a small, niche capability but not an airborne Corps. The same can be said of the Marine Corps' amphibious mission; that is, there is no reasonable scenario in which a large numbers of troops will attempt an opposed, over-the-beach landing.

    The reality is – and we need to be saying this – is that air superiority is “the” prerequisite to any kind of military operation. Period. No armed force can function if subjected to modern air attack. Consider how the IED threat nearly unglued both the Army and the Marine Corps. The psychological effect of IEDs – their randomness, mechanistic cruelty, and our seeming impotence to stop them – almost unhinged our ground forces, and IEDs remain their worst fear.

    What everyone seems to miss is the fact that the entire IED experience US forces have suffered since 9/11 does not begin to match what a modern air force can do in a matter of weeks to a ground force. The Iraqi Army got a sampling, and that's why they gave up virtually without a fight. US troops
    - not to mention defense decision makers – have no idea the trauma they would face under air attack. The key effect of modern American airpower is its ability to inflict helplessness on the minds of its targets.

    As is the fashion today, Kaplan is infatuated by UAS. Frankly, I'm becoming seriously concerned about the public fixation on unmanned (or, more accurately, “remotely manned”) capabilities. And the ground forces are hopelessly addicted to this kind of ISR much because they think it is a solution to the IED problem.

    I believe it is urgent that we begin to talk loudly and repeatedly about the fact that UAS is, essentially, a capability that wholly depends not only upon an almost completely benign airspace environment, but an equally sanguine cyberspace setting. In addition, can we doubt that adversaries are actively working to challenge both? And I am not just talking about a peer competitor. Consider the effect on UAS of the inevitable spread of MANPADs among insurgent forces.

    http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/world/l

    We will not likely see affordable technological solutions that would permit the use of these systems in even moderately contested air or cyber environments anytime soon. In truth, they are more of a “niche” capability applicable principally to the lower end of the conflict spectrum, essentially in situations where the enemy can't fight back. Mark my words:
    however true that may have been in Iraq and Afghanistan to date, that will not persist in the future – even in IW scenarios.

    The alternative is fully autonomous systems. Here's the problem: the world will not accept fully autonomous weapons systems. We already have them today – mines and cluster munitions – and they are loathed around the world. In short, we should not expect acceptance of an armed UAS autonomously proceeding on with its mission after, for example, a data link break.

    Again, it is imperative, absolutely imperative, that the profound political, legal, and technological limitations of UAS systems be fully understood.

    Ditto for the limitations of the F-35. For example, I don't believe Kaplan's statement that the F-35 is “much better at destroying surface-to-air missile batteries” than the F-22 (and, of course, this begs the question as to whether the best way to neutralize an air defense system is to destroy missile batteries).

    Yes, the decision has been made re: F-22s, but we ought not pretend that the F-35 is just as good, or feed the perception that the small cadre of F-22s will be able to take on the vast numbers of opposing aircraft some adversaries will be able to field. What is more is that the key to the
    F-22 is its ability to penetrate airspace protected by advanced SAM systems. It is the proliferation to many countries of triple-digit SAMs, not fifth generation aircraft, that will most threaten our ability to gain and maintain air superiority when and where we need to have it.

    Kaplan also illustrates why Airmen need to stop being the only ones to think joint. His whole essay begins and ends with the idea that the Air Force must accept a subservient and muted role. He has company: current defense thinking builds upon the deeply flawed and seriously “unjoint”
    notion expressed by the CJCS that “the Army is the center of gravity of the US military”

    http://www.ndu.edu/inss/Press/jfq_pages/edition

    This tends to feed the conclusion that all solutions to all military problems must involve ground forces. (Kosovo's air-only success is lost in the mists of time!)

    Regardless, we now find ourselves flooded with counter-joint, ground-centric solutions that too often are, IMHO, unacceptable to the American people. Army commanders, perhaps because of a poverty of imagination, may think it is a perfectly legitimate tactic to use the bodies of young Americans as “Taliban magnets” (or as one Army officer put it “bullet sponges”)

    http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/10/world/asia/10

    but that's not the way America wants her sons and daughters used.

    Americans want technology to substitute for the blood of her children. It is no surprise that shortly after Gen McChrystal put more restraints on airpower, US casualties in Afghanistan reached an all-time high.
    Predictably, US domestic opposition to the Afghan war also reached an all-time high.

    http://politicalticker.blogs.cnn.com/2009/09/01

    The American people know that the Afghanistan does not present an existential threat, and they are not prepared to duplicate the blood and treasure expended in Iraq. It really is that simple, and it calls upon thoughtful military leaders to offer options – as is currently not the case.

    Airmen ought to offering an “airminded” alternative. Ironically, George Will outlines one.

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/ar

    We ought to be thinking and advocating like Airmen, not meek adjuncts to the ground force.

    We should be proud of the fact that our greatest quality is that we don't do things like the ground forces; to the contrary, we look to avoid the costly “close fight”, and we unapologetically relish the opportunity to create effects from afar – kinetic or nonkinetic. Unfortunately, too often we have tried to glorify our “Army-like” capabilities; in truth, this is a great mistake. Airpower basically came into being because of the revulsion Airmen found for the stagnant, human meat-grinder of World War I ground operations. We sought a better way through exploitation of the new technology of the airplane.

    Airmen are mocked for our technology, yet technology is America's asymmetric advantage, and one our enemies keenly understand – and fear.
    Although we have the finest ground forces in the world, the fact is that our adversaries are willing to take them on. What they truly fear, however, is the air weapon. As the LA Times put it recently, “life in the shadow of the Predator is nasty, brutish and short.”

    http://articles.latimes.com/2009/may/24/world/f

    Yet I would be cautious about celebrating the idea, as Kaplan seems to do, that in the future colonels who command UAV units will predominate at promotion boards. Such commanders, ensconced in air conditioned trailers far from the battlefield, will never be considered the equivalent of those who have faced the fight.

    And I'm not just talking about viz-a-viz our sister services, or even the American public – I'm talking about inside our service. For example, there may well be more JAGs and paralegals who have actually heard shots fired in anger than either UAV or manned pilots. Ditto for many other career fields. Commanders without that experience may face a complicated task.

    Yes, the Air Force's culture is changing, but the direction Kaplan applauds may not be the one that best serves the country.

  13. ModerateWarrior:

    First, thank you for obviously taking a lot of time and thought to formulate and post your extensive comments. It is really appreciated.

    I am fortunate that I came back to check—usually after a couple of days our posts vanish “below the blogosphere fold” and we miss out on late comments, unless we make a conscious effort to go into the files and check for them.

    I would like to take a little more time to digest your comments, but I must say that I agree with many of your thoughts, and the ones I may disagree with, I still find them well-reasoned.

    I am thinking of using your comments–of course giving credit to you—to post a response to my original post.

    Please let me know if you would like me to share with the readers any more info on yourself, in addition to your “screen name.”

    Thanks again

    Dorian

  14. The comments I posted in response to Kaplan's drivel were written and attributed by me to an anonymous high-ranking HQ USAF staff officer who has confirmed he must continue to do so at the risk of losing his j-o-b. It's a shame that many of our leading AF officers have been repeatedly threatened and thus professionally silenced in this Gates era where very real threats that don't fit Gates' vision of the future are merely assumed into the margins.

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