The F-22 Raptor is “the most capable multirole combat aircraft in production today,” according to the think tank Air Power Australia. Yet only 203 have been ordered out of the original Air Force request for almost four times that many, and within weeks President Obama must decide whether to order more or let the assembly line close.
The Boeing and Lockheed Martin F-22, which entered service three years ago, blends key technologies that formerly existed only separately on other aircraft – or not at all. Its stealthiness will make trigger-happy combatants shoot at birds. It has agility, air-to-air combat abilities and missile defense penetrability far beyond that of the F-15 Eagle which entered service 33 years ago. It cruises at Mach-plus speeds without using fuel-guzzling afterburners.
During Exercise Northern Edge 2006 the F-22 “fought” as many as 40 "enemy aircraft" during simulated battles, including F-15s, F-16 Fighting Falcons, and F/A-18-F Super Hornets. It achieved an incredible 108-to-zero kill ratio.
So how could this program be in danger of crashing and burning? Mainly it’s the old (and true) cliché that strategists plan to fight the next war based on the last (or current) one. Where once we planned for massive set-piece battles, now it seems many can’t see beyond guerrilla warfare with lightly armed insurgents. Conventional war weapons programs are being eliminated or slashed.
Originally the Air Force requested up to 762, but the Pentagon’s 1990 Major Aircraft Review reduced that to 648. This was subsequently cut to 442, then 339, then to 277, before the current 203, of which 134 have been built.
Yet bizarrely, this very decline in order size is being used to shoot the Raptor down.
Technology development costs are fixed. Each time critics slashed the F-22 order, they then cited the “stunning increase” in per-unit cost to slash away again. This game has played out with one weapons system after another, helping explain why an initial plan for acquiring 132 B-2 Spirit bombers ended with a pitiful purchase of 21 of those incredible aircraft. At the current tiny order size, F-22s are $339 million each. But with R&D paid for the current cost for each additional F-22 is only about $136 million, according to the Air Force.
Michael Fumento is a, journalist, and attorney specializing in science and health issues as well as author of BioEvolution: How Biotechnology is Changing Our World .
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