Few weapon systems have been maligned so much as the Air Force’s 5th generation fighters: F-22s and F-35s. The opponents of a strong defense routinely malign both of them with half-truths or outright blatant lies in order to convince the public and the Congress to cancel the F-35 program just like the DOD and the Congress cancelled the F-22.
But these aircraft are actually excellent, deserving of funding, and as good as (or, in the F-22’s case, superior to) anything that the Russians and the Chinese have deployed or are now developing.
Critics have tried to use a few crashes involving F-22s as evidence that the aircraft is crappy. But the November 2010 crash of an F-22 was actually caused by the pilot, according to the USAF’s official investigation report, although the Service says it is not blaming him:
“Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz told a congressional panel Tuesday that the Air Force did not blame Capt. Jeff Haney for the fatal November 2010 F-22 crash in Alaska, despite the service’s own report that said Haney was at fault.
“We did not assign blame to the pilot,” Schwartz said during a House Appropriations Defense subcommittee hearing. “… This was a complex contingency that he did his best to manage and, in the end, we lost aircraft control.”
The Air Force’s accident investigation report on the crash, released in December, stated that Haney did not react quickly enough to activate the Raptor’s emergency oxygen system or recover from a dive as he struggled to breathe.
“I find the cause of the mishap was the MP’s [mishap pilot] failure to recognize and initiate a timely dive recovery due to channelized attention, breakdown of visual scan and unrecognized spatial disorientation,” Brig. Gen. James Browne, the president of the accident investigation board, wrote in the report.”
It is true, however, that the plane’s oxygen generation system shut down because of a bleed-air problem:
“The report also stated that the F-22’s On-board Oxygen Generating System, or OBOGS, which had been under investigation, did not malfunction, but the device did shut down because of a bleed-air problem.”
Nonetheless, strident liberals continue to blame the fightertype and claim that Pentagon officials are simply trying to “protect” a program that has already been closed:
“Rep. Jim Moran, D-Va., questioned Schwartz and Donley, saying that “there’s been a suggestion … saying that the service is trying to protect its fifth-generation fighter and those involved in the program.””
Critics have similarly been attacking the F-35 program ever since its inception. Their attacks have intensified since the USAF announced recently that it would reduce the requirement for the A variant’s combat radius by just 5 miles, to 612 miles.
Moreover, as USAF Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz says, this is more cost-effective than sticking to obsolete requirements set more than a decade ago.
But this would still mean that the F-35A will have a far longer combat radius than the B and C models as well as most of the short-range strike aircraft operated by the US military, the sole exceptions being F-111s, A-6s, and A-7s.
Extremely liberal Congressman Rush Holt (D-NJ) has recently decried the F-35 program and asked how can Republicans justify the program and its cost ($388 bn, which he rounds to $400 bn) while allegedly cutting food stamp spending, student loans, the Medicare program, and other social programs. He denies that it’s worth investing in.
Here’s how Republicans can justify it.
Firstly, defense is the #1 Constitutional duty (not just a legitimate Constitutional function) of the federal government. Investing in any programs needed or useful for defense is Constitutionally legitimate. OTOH, federal social programs, including food stamps, student lones, and Medicare, are unconstitutional.
Secondly, the F-35 is absolutely needed for America’s defense – not merely to replace legacy aircraft (F-15s, F-16s, A-10s, AV-8s, F/A-18s, EA-6s), but also to reduce the number of aircraft types used by the military (which will produce large annual savings) and to give the military a large increase in capability, very much needed as America’s enemies (China, Russia, Iran, Venezuela, etc.) increase THEIR capability. The above-mentioned legacy aircraft are not survivable in modern combat environments and would be easy target for enemy SAMs. F-35s are stealthy, very survivable, and can therefore survive in any, except the most highly defended, environments, and eliminate air as well as ground targets easily. F-35s are currently the only true fifth-generation fighters in the world. Only they and F-22s can defeat the most modern fighters designed by America’s adversaries (J-10s, JF-17, MiG-29SMTs, Flanker variants, PAK FAs, and J-20s). F-15s (even F-15SEs), F-16s, and F/A-18s (even the E and F models) cannot. These legacy aircraft wouldn’t, in fact, stand the slightest chance against these modern Russian and Chinese aircraft.
Thirdly, the F-35’s cost could be reduced by a full 10% if the Congress would allow the DOD to produce F-35s in bulk, rather than in a piecemeal manner. It is Holt and his Congressional colleagues who are to blame for this 10% part of the program cost.
Fourthly, the Republican budget plan, while preventing sequestration of defense spending, would nonetheless retain First Tier BCA-ordered defense budget cuts and reduce total federal spending while reinvigorating the economy and balancing the budget within a decade (under dynamic scoring).
Fifthly, it is not true that, as Holt has claimed, the F-35 program’s cost is bigger than the entire defense budget “a decade ago”). “A decade ago” was FY2002, and the defense budget for that year was over $400 bn. By contrast, the F-35 program’s cost, $388 bn (not $400 bn as Holt falsely claims) is even smaller than the defense budget for FY2001 ($390 bn in today’s money).
So Congressman Holt’s claims are blatant lies.
The DOD’s fifth generation fighter programs are fully justified.