If necessary, the Air Force says it will try to fill the F-22 shortage by keeping F-15s flying to 2025. It won’t work. Even eight years ago, “some foreign aircraft we’ve been able to test, our best pilots flying their airplanes [from other countries] beat our pilots flying our airplanes every time,” then-Air Force Commander John Jumper told Congress.
Two years earlier, the independent Federation of American Scientists (FAS) noted that the Russian Sukhoi Flanker Su-27, which entered service eight years after the Eagle, “leveled the playing field” with the F-15. Su-27’s, both Russian-built and Chinese pirated copies, are now in arsenals around the world.
Nor are enemy fighters our only worry. Russian surface-to-air missiles (SAMs) have improved dramatically in recent years. The country’s S-300 system is “one of the most lethal, if not the most lethal, all-altitude area defense,” noted the International Strategy and Assessment Service, "a Virginia-based think tank focused on U.S. and Allied security issues." three years ago. China also has the S-300 and the Russians announced in December they’ll soon sell units to Iran.
The sale not only would threaten stand-off warning and control systems like AWACS but also tremendously boost defense of Iran’s Bushehr nuclear reactor and Natanz uranium-enrichment site.
The newer S-400 system, already deployed, is far better able to detect low-signature targets and aircraft generally, as far away as 250 miles away, according to the FAS. That’s twice that of the S-300. When mated with the Triumf SA-20/21 missile, which Russia claims it tested in December, it can even knock down ballistic missiles.
“Only the F-22 can survive in airspace defended by increasingly capable surface-to-air missiles,” declared Air Force Association President Mike Dunn in December.
Some have demanded trading off F-22s for more of the cheaper F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter (JSF), although it’s vastly inferior in both air-to-air combat and ground defense penetration. Further, much of that lower price reflects the economy of scale of the vastly larger order F-35 orders, even as increased development costs have tremendously upped the Lightning II price tag.
The current Air Force budget estimate says the “flyaway unit cost” of its F-35 version will be strikingly higher than that of the F-22 during the first four years of production. Only then will assembly line expansion drop the F-35 sticker to $91 billion by FY 2013.
The Russia bear has awakened from hibernation to rebuild its lost empire. China continues its inexorable military expansion. Iran desperately wants The Bomb, while North Korea revels in unpredictability. Yes, Virginia, we really do have potential enemies with weapons other than AKs and IEDs. We desperately need far more F-22 Raptors — preferably to prevent wars but if need be to win them.
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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