The leftist, anti-defense organization POGO is currently distributing a propaganda booklet edited by one of its anti-defense hacks, Winslow Wheeler (formerly of the George-Soros-funded CDI) and written by a number of other anti-defense hacks, such as Franklin “Chuck” Spinney and Pierre Sprey (yes, the Pierre Sprey of Fighter Mafia fame). The authors bill themselves as “experts” with “400 years of experience”, and they claim to be revealing the DOD’s deepest secrets.
But the booklet is just another leftist propaganda rag full of false information. An example will serve to illustrate the point.
In the Preface, Wheeler claims that it is widely believed and even a “biblical” article of faith that the F-22 is the best fighter in the world, but that Pierre Sprey’s essay (the one on weapon systems) somehow offers proof to the contrary.
I read Sprey’s essay, and it’s clear that it fails to offer any proof and in fact, offers the same standard lies about the F-22 that I’ve already heard numerous times. Moreover, the essay reveals that Sprey is either completely ignorant about defense issues or, more likely, so biased against modern weapons that he’s blatantly lying to malign them while praising the F-16 fighter to the highest.
Why the F-16? Because Sprey, as a member of the Fighter Mafia, was one of the men behind that program and, throughout the 1970s and 1980s, he advocated its development and production. Sprey is, in short, the godfather of the F-16 as much as Harry Hillaker and John Boyd were.
And his love for his brainchild – the F-16 – is obviously blinding him, leading him to malign better, more capable aircraft, including the F-22.
In the essay, Sprey falsely claims that the F-22 is 30 times more expensive to acquire than the F-16 while being less capable. He also claims that the F-22 is more expensive to maintain and fly.
The latter part is true, but it’s a nonsequitur. The F-22 is not, and never was, a replacement for the F-16, but rather the F-15, and more modern, more capable weapons inevitably cost more to procure, maintain, and fly than older ones – but they’re also much more capable.
The claim that the F-22 is 30, or even 20, times more expensive to buy than the F-16 is false: the F-22’s unit cost is $137-$150 mn (not the $400 mn that POGO and other F-22 enemies falsely claim; the latter figure includes development costs, which have already been paid, and thus do not represent the cost the DOD actually paid when it bought 187 F-22s). The F-16 costs $18.8 mn in FY1998 dollars, i.e. $26.42 mn in today’s money, to buy.
The F-22 is VASTLY more capable than the F-16. For starters, compare their technical specifications:
The F-22 has a much higher service ceiling (65,000 feet) and top speed (Mach 2.25) than the F-16 (50,000 ft and Mach 2), meaning it can fly much higher and much faster and thus increase its missiles’ nominal range much more than the F-16 can. The F-22 also has a much better thrust/weight ratio (1.26:1 at full weapon load and 50% fuel) than the F-16 (1.09:1) and a much lower wing loading ratio (375 kg/square meter) than the F-16 (431 kg/square meter). Even at a full weapon AND fuel load, the F-22 still has the same 1.09:1 T/W ratio as the F-16. This makes the F-22 much more maneuverable – including in close combat – than the F-16 “dogfighter”. Given that Sprey underlines within visual range combat’s importance versus that of BVR combat, and of aircraft agility versus missiles, the F-22’s superiority in agility and turning capability is all the more important.
A 2008 RAND study by John Stillion and Scott Perdue found that when it comes to maneuverability and agility, the F-22 and the F-15C are, ex aequo, the best fighters the US currently flies, while the F-16 is inferior, not to mention the F-35 and the Super Bug.
This should not be surprising: the F-22 has two F119 PW-100 engines, each of which provides far more thrust than the F-16’s single engine: 104 kN of dry thrust each, and 156 kN of thrust each if on afterburner.
The F-22 can also carry a larger fuel payload (18,000 lb) than the F-16, giving it a better unrefueled combat radius (759 kms vs the F-16’s 550) and greater endurance.
Most importantly of all, the F-22’s APG-77 radar is far superior to that of the F-16 (partly due to its far larger size and partly due to its newer technology), and the F-22 has the ability to supercruise (i.e. fly at supersonic speeds without resorting to fuel-gulping afterburners) and is very stealthy (i.e. very low observable), while the F-16 does not and is not.
Why does this matter? Because in air-to-air combat, victory is determined first and foremost by who can enter and egress from the fight with impunity, and who can acquire and hit the enemy first (i.e. first-shot capability). If you don’t have these capabilities, you will inevitably lose.
The F-16 flies far lower and far slower than the F-22 or its foreign competitors, and at a top speed of just Mach 2 and even that on a heat-emitting afterburner (compared to the F-22’s supercruise ability and its slit, stealthy engines), it cannot egress from the fight safely if it runs out of missiles. It would be easily chased, tracked, and shot down by the F-22 or by enemy aircraft.
The F-22 can, with its AIM-120D AMRAAM missiles and its APG-77 AESA radar, have a first-look and first-shot capability, shoot down its enemies or, if it runs out of missiles, egress from the fight safely, quickly and undetected. It can engage and disengage at the pilot’s wish.
But of course, the F-16 won’t be fighting against the F-22. It will be fighting (if at all) against enemy aircraft such as the Flanker, the PAKFA, and the J-20. So let’s compare the old, 1970s’ vintage F-16 fighter to these modern Russian and Chinese aircraft:
|Dry thrust (kN)||76.3||86.3×2||89.17×2||N/A||74.5×2||74.5×2|
|Thrust w/afterburner (kN)||127||142×2||129.4×2||157+x2||180||122.5×2||125.5×2|
|Max speed (Mach)||2||2.25||2.35||2+||2||2||2.17|
|Combat radius (km)||550||NA||NA||NA||2000||NA||NA|
|Service ceiling (ft)||50000||59100||62523||65600||65617||56800|
|Rate of climb (m/s)||254||280+||300||350||N/A||230||246|
|Wing loading (kg/m2)||431||408||385||330-470||N/A||401||483|
|Number of weapons carried (max)||11||12||10||4 internal, 6 external||N/A||12||12|
|Internal fuel capacity (lb)||N/A||22711|
As you can clearly see from the table, the newest Russian and Chinese designs (with the partial exception of the Su-30 and Su-33) outmatch the F-16 by almost every criterion, including dry thrust, thrust with afterburner, thrust/weight ratio, wing loading (a lower one is better), service ceiling, top speed, rate of climb, and, in most cases, the number of weapons carried.
For a dogfighter, the F-16 has an usually high (by modern standards) wing loading of 431 kg/sq meter, a low T/W ratio of 1.095:1 (compared to 1.19:1 for the PAKFA and 1.1:1 for the Su-35S), and a poor rate of climb (just 254 m/s).
The only advantages it has over some of these aircraft is that it can carry 1 weapon more than the J-11 or the PAKFA, and it has a better T/W ratio and a better wing loading ratio than the Su-30 and the Su-33. Still, it is inferior, by most counts, to these aircraft as well.
Furthermore, the F-16 is not stealthy, while the PAKFA and the J-20 are, and has no supercruise ability, while the Su-35 and the PAKFA do, and the J-20 likely will (especially if Russian Saturn type 117S engines are used; it has been alleged that the Russians supplied them for J-2o prototypes).
Very simply, the F-16 is no match for the F-22 – or for the adversary aircraft it would encounter today if it were to engage in WVR or BVR combat. It would be easily shot down by these aircraft. The introduction of the Flanker, in its many variants, made it obsolete and irrelevant, but the induction of the PAKFA and the J-20 into service will make them totally obsolete, irrelevant, impotent, and useless against anyone except insurgents.
The only Western aircraft capable of standing up against, and defeating, these newest Russian and Chinese designs is the F-22, the very aircraft that Sprey, Wheeler, and other POGO hacks deride and wanted to kill. The F-22’s production has already been killed, in fact, at a mere 187 aircraft, and POGO now wants the same to happen to the F-35. If that happens, the USAF will be flying obsolete, impotent, useless aircraft designed in the 1970s against modern, superior Russian aircraft designed in the 1990s and the 21st century. God forbid.
That the F-22 is the best fighter in the world is not “a biblical article of faith”. It’s a matter of fact.