The F-22 is an excellent fighterplane, both beyond visual range (BVR) and in dogfights, and the “gold standard” against which other fighters are measured. It is also superior to the stealthy 5th generation fighters that the Russians and the Chinese are developing. It also has the distinction of being the most maligned combat aircraft in history, with its biased critics in the US and beyond concocting and spreading false stories about its capabilities, program history, and cost.
In this blogpost, I will explain to you, Dear Reader, how the F-22 was killed, and what lessons its killing portends for other crucial defense programs.
The F-22 emerged in the waning days of the Cold War when the USAF recognized that a replacement for the F-15 air superiority fighter would be needed some years down the road, especially in light of the Russians fielding the Flanker, an aircraft superior in most respects to the F-15.
Unfortunately, Sec. Dick Cheney’s hostility to new weapon programs, the defense cuts that followed the end of the Cold War, and the ridiculous presumption, shared during the 1990s by both Republicans and Democrats that the world had changed for the better and the US would never again need a strong military or the capability to fight another nation-state, led to a cutback of the planned orders for the F-22, from the originally-required 650 to just 322. At the same time, the Clinton Administration pledged to make the F-22 available to Israel.
Then came the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. They soaked up most defense dollars, leading to a decade of consumption budgets rather than investment budgets. Even worse, the ridiculous belief that the US would never again fight another nation-state and that all future wars would be against terrorists, became a dogmatical belief shared by almost everyone in Washington, leading to the killings of many programs designed to allow the US to win wars against nation-states, even as Russia was rearming and China was engaged in an arms race against the US. Furthermore, Secretary Rumsfeld, enamored with “military transformation” (whatever that was supposed to mean), dramatically cut the orders for the F-22, to just 187 aircraft. As a result, unit cost significantly increased to $150 mn in FY2009 dollars. What would’ve otherwise been a very cheap fighter became an $150 mn per copy plane.
Meanwhile, the opponents of a strong defense, and many gullible, foolish Republicans such as Sen. John McCain, were concocting and spreading dozens of false stories about the F-22’s capabilities, cost, program history, and utility. At the same time, Congress maintained its ridiculous ban on F-22 exports, meaning that no allies, not even the most trusted ones such as Britain, Australia, Canada, and Israel would be allowed to buy F-22s, even though Australia repeatedly urged and begged the US to abolish that ban or at least exempt Australia from it.
Worsening things was Secretary Robert Gates (one of the worst Secretaries of Defense America has ever had), who, like Rumsfeld and others in Washington, believed that America would never again have to fight another nation-state and that all or at least most future wars would be fought against terrorists, and who killed dozens of programs needed to maintain America’s eroding edge against Russia, China, and others. Gates made dozens of enormously stupid programmatic decisions, killing the MKV, the KEI, the ABL, the Zumwalt class, the AC-X, the CSARX, and other needed programs.
Yet, arguably, none of his programmatic decisions was as foolish as that to kill the F-22. That foolhardy mistake – now widely recognized on the Right as such, and rightly so – jeopardized America’s air superiority and national security and put all eggs in one basket, the F-35. The F-35 is and will be an excellent strike fighter, but never as good an air superiority fighter as the F-22, and despite good developments, it is still troubled with problems ranging from the lightning protection system to the C variant’s hook problems.
The F-35 program was troubled already at the time that Sec. Gates made his foolhardy decision to put all eggs in that basket, but he refused to recognize them at the time. Worse yet, he and other defense ignoramuses made utterly ridiculous claims about the F-35, claiming that it was a substitute for, or an alternative to, the F-22 (similarly to how other defense ignoramuses make similar claims about the Super Bug today, despite an overwhelming body of evidence that the Super Bug is decisively inferior to, and no substitute for, the F-35).
Gates and company were obviously unaware that, for example:
- The F-22 is far stealthier from all aspects than the F-35.
- The F-22 can fly at supersonic speeds (supercruise) without resorting to fuel-gulping, heat-emitting afterburners. The F-35 cannot.
- The F-22 can, in its stealthy mode, carry far more A2A and A2G ordnance than the F-35.
- The F-22 can fly faster, higher, and much farther than the F-35.
But as is often the case, ignorance and stupidity prevailed, and by edict of Sec. Gates, rubberstamped by a compliant, Democrat-controlled Congress that was all too happy to cut defense, the F-22 was killed, along with dozens of other needed weapon programs. Production was stopped at 187 aircraft. And because the export ban was maintained, no allies were allowed to order the F-22. The production line was closed several months ago, ensuring that neither the US nor its allies will ever again be able to order any F-22s unless they’re willing to pay the cost of reopening that line.
Good luck securing funding from Congress for that in the current budget environment.
It almost sounds as if the Obama Administration was sabotaging America’s defense capabilities. But it’s far more likely that Sec. Gates and company were just plain stupid and ignorant, not ill-intentioned. (As Secretary, Gates also did several good things and made a strong case for robust defense funding in general.) They were simply vastly underestimating America’s enemies.
Which brings me to my next point: that the US has a long history of repeatedly UNDERESTIMATING its enemies’ capabilities by a big margin, not overestimating them as opponents of a strong defense often claim. All available evidence shows that the US routinely UNDERESTIMATES its enemies’ capabilities and has a long history of doing so.
The US underestimated Japan’s capabilities. The result was that USAAF and USN pilots were forced to fly in decisively inferior Brewster Buffalos, P-39s, P-40s, and F4Fs against the Japanese Mitsubishi A6M Zero. That was tantamount to death sentences on the unfortunate pilots flying those inferior aircraft against the Zero. The problem was unresolved until Hellcats, Corsairs, and Mustangs came along.
After the war, the US captured a number of advanced German and Japanese aircraft and pieces of technology, and rested on laurels. The result was that the US went absolutely unprepared into Korea. For pilots, it meant flying obsolete, propeller-driven aircraft against the Soviet MiG-15 jet fighter. Again, American pilots were being slaughtered until F-86s were introduced in significant numbers. Then, the F-86s (which were superior to MiG-15s in some respects) and the experienced pilots who flew them saved the day. But even then, Korea was a stand-still.
After that, the US rested on laurels again, and pencilneck politicians declared the end of dogfight air to air combat, claiming that all future A2A combat would be fought beyond visual range (BVR) with missiles. But in Vietnam, A2A combat was frequently fought within visual range (WVR), and then, American pilots, usually flying the F-4 Phantom II (a heavy, poorly maneuverable, expensive, poorly-designed fighter with poor visibility for the pilot) with highly inaccurate Sparrow missiles and no guns, were getting slaughtered by inferior North Vietnamese pilots flying the small, nimble, very maneuverable MiG-21. The addition of a gun to the F-4 only partially rectified the problem. The US military eventually had to develop the F-14, F-15, and F-16.
The F-15 ensured that the US would regain air supremacy and retain it for a few decades. However, its success (it has shot down 104 enemy aircraft for no own losses) has again caused Americans to rest on laurels. The US is again assuming, quite wrongly, that it will retain air supremacy indefinitely, even if it doesn’t buy any new advanced fighters in any significant quantities, and that 183 F-22s are enough. They’re not.
Upgrading F-15s is no solution, because the F-15, even with upgrades, is an old, obsolete fighter inferior to the newest Russian and Chinese fighters such as the Su-27/30/33/35 Flanker, the J-10, the J-11B (a Chinese Flanker variant), the JF-17, the PAKFA, and the J-20, as explained here.
And now, the US is facing the risk of not only losing air superiority but also allowing its enemies to create an impenetrable box which American legacy fighters cannot enter.
Finally, one other key lesson of the F-22’s killing is that it was a classic example of the employment of the liberal “replacement technique”, which liberals often use to kill weapon programs they don’t like. They targetr a weapon program, call for its closure, and deceptively claim – even in the face of massive evidence to the contrary – that there is a substitute or an alternative for it.
But once that weapon program is closed, they turn their guns against the very weapon system they claimed was the “alternative”, and demand its closing, too.
Such was the case with the F-22: the opponents of a strong defense claimed that the F-35 was an “alternative” to it. Now that the F-22 has been irreversibly killed, they have turned against the F-35 and demand its cancellation. They claim that the Super Bug is somehow an alternative to it… but if the F-35 were killed, they would immediately turn against the Super Bug and demand that it be killed, too.
So, folks, never listen to such people. Their only goal is to deceive the public and to gut America’s defense.