About stealthy aircraft and defense spending


As I stated yesterday, photos of an alleged (unproven, as of yet) Chinese stealthy fighterplane (named the J-20) are circulating around the Internet. It is not yet known whether this plane is the real deal or just a product of Photoshop. (http://www.wired.com/dangerroom/2010/12/is-this-chinas-first-stealth-fighter/)

Nonetheless, on the so-called “Danger Room” blog on the Wired.com website, a certain amateur blogger by the name of David Axe has utterly discredited himself by writing this:

“Panicky Western air-power advocates, who a year ago claimed America would be “less safe” if the Pentagon pressed forward with plans to end production of the F-22 stealth fighter at 187 copies, might just announce the end of America’s 50-year dominance of the skies. Alarmists made similar claims when Russia’s new T-50 fighter first flew, despite that plane’s many non-stealthy attributes and dubious production prospects.

The Pentagon hasn’t had a chance to comment on the J-20 photos, but is likely to remain sanguine. In deliberations over the F-22, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates acknowledged that the Chinese were working on a stealth fighter, but insisted the Communist country would have “no fifth-generation aircraft by 2020,” while the United States would have more than a thousand F-22s and F-35s.

In the year-and-a-half since Gates made that claim, the Pentagon has delayed F-35 production and China has apparently accelerated its own stealth development — alleged J-20 photos aside — but the spirit of Gates’ assertion remains valid.

Even if the photos are real and the J-20 exists as more than blueprints, there’s probably no cause for alarm. The United States flew its first stealth prototypes — the YF-22 and rival YF-23 — in 1990; the J-20 hasn’t even flown yet. It took 15 years for the F-22 to enter front-line service. Considering China’s quality-control problems with high technology, it could take a decade or more for the J-20 to appear in numbers that make any difference in the Pacific balance of power. Gates might have been slightly off in his assessment of the Chinese air force, but probably not by much.”

I’m not sure who David Axe called panicky, but I am not  panicky. When Gates asked the Congress to end the F-22 program, I merely warned- calmly – that such a policy would endanger America. We, the defenders of the F-22 program, were right. Now that the F-22 program has been prematurely closed, America is less safe than it would’ve otherwise been. (The reason is not this alleged Chinese fighterplane, which might not even exist, but rather Russian and Chinese 4.5th generation and 5th generation aircraft like the Sukhoi PAKFA).

Now that photos of this alleged Chinese stealthy aircraft have emerged, no one is going to announce the end of the era of American pilots dominating the skies. But the US military is no longer uncontested in that realm, and we can’t be sure that the US military will always rule the skies.

As for T-50s (PAKFAs), those aircraft ARE stealthy, and they have good market prospects. Russia and India between them plan to purchase several hundred of them. Countries like China, Venezuela, Iran, Syria and Angola would also likely buy such aircraft, and will likely be targeted as potential customers. David Axe needs to learn that Russia (like China) is willing to sell any weapons to anyone who can pay for them.

The most ridiculous statement David has made, though, was that:

“In deliberations over the F-22, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates acknowledged that the Chinese were working on a stealth fighter, but insisted the Communist country would have “no fifth-generation aircraft by 2020,” while the United States would have more than a thousand F-22s and F-35s.

In the year-and-a-half since Gates made that claim, the Pentagon has delayed F-35 production and China has apparently accelerated its own stealth development — alleged J-20 photos aside — but the spirit of Gates’ assertion remains valid.

Even if the photos are real and the J-20 exists as more than blueprints, there’s probably no cause for alarm. The United States flew its first stealth prototypes — the YF-22 and rival YF-23 — in 1990; the J-20 hasn’t even flown yet. It took 15 years for the F-22 to enter front-line service. Considering China’s quality-control problems with high technology, it could take a decade or more for the J-20 to appear in numbers that make any difference in the Pacific balance of power. Gates might have been slightly off in his assessment of the Chinese air force, but probably not by much.”

(http://www.wired.com/dangerroom/2010/12/is-this-chinas-first-stealth-fighter/)

With this statement, David has proven that he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Gates’ claim (which was never anything more than a rosy projection not based on any data, but rather on Gates’s personal beliefs) was wrong when it was made, and it is wrong now. It was always wrong. His assertion is not valid and never was. And Gates wasn’t just “a little off” with his assessment of the PLAAF, he was 100% wrong.

Gates cannot predict the future, and neither can anyone else, so it’s ridiculous for anyone to insist that by Year XXXX, China will have 0 5th generation fighterplanes. Moreover, data available about China suggests that with 2 indigenous 5th generation fighterplane programs, a Russia willing to sell PAKFAs and Su-35BMs to anyone, and US intel projecting that China’s first 5th generation fighterplane will fly by 2017, it’s likely that by 2017 China will have some 5th generation fighterplanes, possibly even hundreds of them if it decides to buy PAKFAs or Su-35BMs.

Moreover, both China and Russia already possess hundreds Generation #4.5 fighterplanes (Su-27s, SU-30s, Su-33s, Su-35s, J-10s, J-11s and JF-17s) that are decisively superior to 4th generation fighterplanes (including F-15s, F-16s and F/A-18s). They are younger and more maneuvrable, and have better radars and EW equipment. The USAF itself admits that its F-15s are inferior to Flankers. You can’t effectively fight 1990s’ and 21st century fighterplanes with aircraft produced during the 1970s and the 1980s.

Moreover, Gates asserted that by 2020, the US would have a thousand F-22s and F-35s. Let’s hope it will be the case, but it’s unlikely. Gates has closed the F-22 program and delayed the F-35 program. Many liberal and libertarian politicians, pressure groups and journalists, as well as the misnamed Deficit Reduction Commission, have called on the DOD and the Congress to end the F-35 program. (That’s nothing new, though: liberals often say “we should end this weapon program because there’s already a good alternative, i.e. that weapon program”, and when the first program is closed, the second program – the one which was supposed to be the alternative – is the next one they malign and target for closure.) Even if the F-35 program is not closed, however, and even if it is not delayed any further (and that is a big IF), and even if the Congress doesn’t cut that program further, it’s unlikely that by 2020 the US military will have 1,000 F-22s and F-35s. The math doesn’t add up.

So Mr Gates was 100% wrong with his assessment of the PLAAF. His claim was wrong when it was made in 2009, and it is wrong now. Not that this would be any surprise to anyone: Mr Gates knows absolutely nothing whatsoever about defense issues.

Davd’s fellow D-Room blogger Noah Shachtman has denounced the F-35 type as a “gajillion-dollar stealth fighter, now easier to shoot down”, on the basis of a design flow that has already been corrected. Moreover, a single F-35 does NOT cost  “a gajillion dollars”. The unit price for a single F-35 is $83 mn. Compare that to a single Raptor ($135 mn), a single PAKFA (projected to be $120-$150 mn), a single EF-2000 Typhoon (over 60 bn GBP, which is over $100 mn), or a single Dassault Rafale (64 mn EUR, i.e. about $89 mn). All of these aircraft types are more expensive than the F-35, yet the latter two are inferior to it.

http://www.wired.com/dangerroom/2010/06/stealth-fighter-mods-make-it-more-likely-to-get-shot-down/

The D-Room has also recently tried to deceive the American people about America’s defense spending when it claimed that:

“Fighting (or pretending to fight) al-Qaeda on behalf of the U.S.? Congress is your private Santa.

Defying Beltway expectations, both chambers of Congress approved a $724.6 billion defense bill for the current fiscal year. Congress was feeling generous, and the money lavished on the United States’ proxies shows it.”

(http://www.wired.com/dangerroom/2010/12/shadow-wars-get-big-bucks-in-last-minute-defense-bill/)

This is claim is wrong for several reasons: firstly, not all of this sum of $724.6 bn would be defense spending; only about $549 bn would be. The rest would not be defense spending, but rather GWOT spending, which would have absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with defense (i.e. the task of creating and maintaining a strong military). Instead, the money would be spent on purposes such as bribes for Pakistan and Yemen to fight terrorists, and funding for equipment for their militaries. America has never had a $724.6 bn defense budget. Not this fiscal year. Not ever.

Secondly, this “bill” was never passed by the Senate, only by the House. Thirdly, it has never been signed into law. Instead, the Congress has decided to fund the federal government (including the DOD) at FY2010 funding levels.

A new Congress is scheduled to convene on January 5th, 2010. AT has warned everyone to expect a tough budget battle between the Congress and the President. Let’s hope the Congress doesn’t cut defense spending.

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