Way back in January, 2009, I started posting on the F-22 Raptor program, on how, “One of the first weapon systems-related decisions the Obama administration will have to make is whether to purchase additional Lockheed-Martin F-22 Raptors, after the last one of a 183 aircraft order has been delivered.”
Already back then, the F-22 issue, and those of related weapon systems, such as the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, promised to be highly charged political issues, involving numerous and serious national security and economic concerns.
Already back then, Congress was showing strong resistance to any F-22 production cuts. For example, a group of 44 senators—25 Democrats and 19 Republicans—sent Obama a letter pleading for continued F-22 production, a letter that said in part:
The F-22 Raptor is the nation’s most capable fighter and the world’s only operational fifth-generation fighter aircraft in full-rate production…The F-22 is a model production line and, since full-rate production began, the unit flyaway cost has decreased 35 percent.
Already back then, Congress and the aerospace industry were warning of an economic disaster, if the F-22 program was cancelled.
Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), a defense appropriator from a state home to Boeing (Lockheed Martin’s subcontractor on the Raptor), said:
Continued F-22 production is critical to both the national security and economic interests of our country…At a time when we are looking to create jobs and stimulate the economy, eliminating the $12 billion in economic activity and thousands of American jobs tied to F-22 production simply doesn’t make sense.
A Washington Post article quoted here had this:
Bethesda-based Lockheed Martin, the prime contractor for the F-22 fighter jet, said thousands of jobs would be lost if President Obama decides not to continue funding for the advanced but costly plane. Larry Lawson, Lockheed’s general manager of the F-22 program, said the program is responsible for about 95,000 jobs at 1,000 suppliers.
A site, “Preserve Raptor Jobs,” urged:
Production of the world’s most advanced fighter aircraft, the F-22 Raptor, is in jeopardy. Your help is needed to urge the Obama Administration to save more than 95,000 American jobs and more than $12 billion in national economic activity…Please sign the petition to send the message to Congress that Obama must approve continuing the Raptor program, and send a letter to the White House urging the Administration to preserve F-22 Raptor production to protect American jobs, our economy, and national security!
Already back then—even before that time—Secretary of Defense Gates was showing a little bit of his hand with respect to the F-22, suggesting less F-22s and more emphasis on aerial drones to more effectively deal with “asymmetric threats” in what has come to be known as “Irregular Warfare.”
As I commented on an article that Gates wrote in the January/February 2009 issue of Foreign Affairs:
The thrust of Gate’s article was that “The Pentagon has to do more than modernize its conventional forces; it must also focus on today’s unconventional conflicts — and tomorrow’s.”
Subsequently, focusing more on military aircraft, in the same article he writes:
The Defense Department has to consider whether in situations in which the United States has total air dominance, it makes sense to employ lower-cost, lower-tech aircraft that can be employed in large quantities and used by U.S. partners…The issue then becomes how to build this kind of innovative thinking and flexibility into the rigid procurement processes at home. The key is to make sure that the strategy and risk assessment drive the procurement, rather than the other way around, for strategic bombers and billion-dollar ships.
Yes, the handwriting was on the wall…
Already back then—in support of or in opposition to the F-22—we were flooded with cost analyses, comparisons of mission, roles and operational capabilities, cost, schedule, advantages and disadvantages, etc., etc., between the for-scarce-dollars-competing F-22 and F-35.
Finally, still back then, even international business ramifications were part of the equation.
As so happens, Lockheed Martin is the prime contractor for both the F-22 and the F-35 programs.
The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program is a huge international program. It involves eight international partners or participants, who are at various stages and “levels” (generally reflecting the financial stake in the program) of participation, each one contributing varying amounts to the development phase and cost of the program and each one intending to eventually procure a number of these aircraft, for a total of over 3,100 aircraft—including the at the time U.S. planned procurement. This makes the JSF one of the biggest and most ambitious aircraft programs ever.
It is thus easy to see how any major decisions about the F-22, its prime manufacturer, or decisions affecting the general thrust and future of our air superiority/air dominance strategies could have significant repercussions among the international program participants, especially at a time when several partners in the program were getting ready to make crucial decisions as to the scope of their commitment to the program, or even as to whether to continue in the program.
Fast forward to July 21, 2009, when, as reported by the Washington Post, “in a dogfight almost to the end,” Congress scrapped the F-22 program.
Of course, it is still too early to fully gauge the military, economic and other impacts of the program’s cancelation, but military correspondent David Axe, in “Meet the ‘New’ U.S. Air Force“, gives us an early assessment as to whether the recent actions mean the demise of U.S. air power:
First, the obvious:
In quick succession, Gates ended F-22 production, slowed buys of F-35s, boosted the status and production rates on drones, and plowed $700 million into three new, inexpensive airplane types for IW. The results, for the world’s biggest and most capable Air Force, have been dramatic.
Axe then answers the question as to whether all this means the demise of U.S. air power, with a “Far from it,” and says:
The “new” U.S. Air Force that Gates is creating will be the most capable the world has ever seen, because it will balance conventional fighter jets for state-on-state war, with lower-end capabilities optimized for battling insurgencies — plus a huge, diverse fleet of flexible aerial drones. These forces will blend into a seamless whole for defeating “hybrid” threats that combine high technology with insurgent tactics.
The three new, inexpensive IW planes Axe is talking about are:
* The Project Liberty MC-12W, a civilian King Air turboprop fitted with sophisticated sensors and data-links, meant for soaking up vast amounts of imagery and sharing it with other planes, drones and ground forces.
* A new, two-seat light fighter, to enter service in 2012.
* Sixty examples, by 2012, of a very light airlifter, smaller than the Air Force’s four-engine C-130s — smaller even than the new twin-engine C-27Js.
Axe then provides his assessment of what, under current plans, the Air Force will have in a decade’s time.
* 187 F-22s and several hundred F-35s, plus at least another 1,000 modernized F-15s, F-16s and A-10s — probably around 2,000 Air Force fighters, in all
* The same roughly 150 modernized B-1, B-2 and B-52 bombers as today
* A diverse strategic airlift force composed of more than 200 C-17s and around 100 modernized C-5s
* A tactical airlift fleet of around 500 planes, mixing C-130s and C-27Js
* The first of several hundred new KC-45 tankers, in addition to today’s KC-135s and KC-10s
* An IW fleet of at least 200 MC-12s, light fighters and small airlifters
* A Special Operations air force of around 100 V-22s and modified C-130s, including dedicated and “modular” gunships
* The same 100 E-3, E-8, RC-135 and U-2 “big” surveillance planes as today, plus around 50 RQ-4 spy drones
* Fifty orbits (totaling around 400 aircraft) of medium, armed drones, mostly MQ-9 Reapers and (probably) Predator C jet-drones, pictured
Axe concludes: “You’d have to be nuts, or in the pay of fighter manufacturers, to label this force a ‘crisis,’ as Grant does.”
He is referring to Rebecca Grant and her recent article, ”The Turning Point,” in the August issue of the on-line Air Force Magazine, where Grant starts out with:
A year ago, USAF had a fully funded modernization program. That program has unraveled.
The Air Force is in the throes of what could prove to be one of the greatest upheavals in its turbulent 62-year history.
Rebecca Grant is a senior fellow of the Lexington Institute and president of IRIS Independent Research. She has written extensively on airpower and serves as director, Mitchell Institute, for the Air Force Association.
There are others, who, like Grant, believe that the Air Force’s modernization program “has unraveled.”
We’ll cover those views, including Grant’s, in a subsequent post.
Image: Courtesy Lockheed Martin