Skip to comments.Air Force Campaigns to Save Jet Fighter
Posted on 01/13/2005 7:09:45 PM PST by neverdem
On a clear day at an Air Force base in Nevada, as a test pilot steered his F/A-22 skyward, the nose of the plane inexplicably turned down, pitching the $250 million fighter jet into the ground.
The pilot, luckily, walked away unscathed. But the crash, which took place just before Christmas, was not only a blow to Air Force pride but also, as it turned out, a bad omen. Days later, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld confirmed reports that the Pentagon planned to cut the number of F/A-22's it would buy by about a third, sending shock waves through the Air Force.
There is no plane more costly or more coveted by the Air Force, which has already spent $40 billion to develop the F/A-22 into a fighter jock's dream, capable of outperforming anything else in the sky.
But even though it is the Air Force's No. 1 priority, the F/A-22 tops the list of $30 billion in weapons programs that Mr. Rumsfeld wants to chop from the fiscal 2006 budget and years beyond as the Bush administration seeks to rein in spending while the costs of the war in Iraq continue unabated and a budget deficit looms.
"The conventional wisdom was that the Air Force would sacrifice their grandmothers to keep this program on track," said Pierre Chao, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a nonpartisan research group that analyzes foreign and military policy. "This cut was a clear surprise."
For the Air Force, and the hundreds of military contractors seeking a piece of the lucrative F/A-22 business, the big question now is whether they can overturn Mr. Rumsfeld's decision. To do so will require more than simply pressing their case to lawmakers.
Just yesterday the campaign for the F/A-22 began in earnest as the Air Force chief of staff, Gen. John Jumper, piloted one over the Florida skies - reaching speeds of Mach 1.7 - before returning to tell waiting reporters that the jet is "all that any of us had hoped it would be and more."
Equally adroit maneuvering, however, will take place on the ground. The decision on whether to keep the money flowing to the F/A-22, which is currently in operational trials, or to halt it by 2008, as Mr. Rumsfeld seeks, touches on a number of other issues - some monetary, some political and some personal.
Underlying the F/A-22 cuts is a policy debate between Mr. Rumsfeld and the Air Force over the future of the military air fleet and the nature of aerial warfare. This debate also sets up a political dogfight between the highly advanced F/A-22 and the Joint Strike Fighter, a cheaper, more prosaic fighter that is supposed to replace the venerable F-16 workhorse, starting in 2013.
Mr. Rumsfeld's decision to provide funds for only 180 F/A-22 Raptors, down from a previously planned 277, suggests that the Air Force has become more vulnerable in Washington's endless bureaucratic wars. That is partly a result of a growing political scandal over Air Force procurement practices that contributed to the resignation of Air Force Secretary James Roche, a staunch F/A-22 supporter.
Two years ago, when Mr. Rumsfeld, never a fan of the F/A-22, first attempted to cut it back, Mr. Roche threatened to resign and Mr. Rumsfeld folded. Today, all Mr. Roche can do is raise an objection on his way out the door.
"With these cuts, Rumsfeld has returned to a goal he first tried in the summer of 2002," said Loren B. Thompson, a military analyst at the Lexington Institute, a research group in Arlington, Va., that advocates limited government.
"Rumsfeld didn't succeed because of Roche's threats," Mr. Thompson explained. "Now the Air Force is defenseless. Its political leadership is leaving and its uniformed leadership has been discredited by scandal."
Still, the political forces behind the F/A-22 will not go down without a fight. With the work on the project spread over 43 states and two of its biggest contractors, Lockheed Martin and Boeing, among the most powerful lobbying juggernauts in Washington, backers of the F/A-22 will try to persuade Congress to do what Mr. Rumsfeld will not.
Cuts in the F/A-22 program would save about $10 billion, according to Pentagon calculations, with program reductions in aircraft carriers, landing ships and an Army high-tech combat system making up the rest of Mr. Rumsfeld's projected $30 billion in savings.
The bulk of the cutbacks would fall on Lockheed, which stands to lose $18 billion it was counting on from the F/A-22 and other programs. Also feeling the pinch is Northrop Grumman, which makes submarines and other Navy vessels and could lose over $5 billion.
For the F/A-22, "the game has just begun," said Keith Ashdown, vice president at Taxpayers for Common Sense, a research group that focuses on ways to cut federal spending. "Lockheed has a battalion of lobbyists and they will be spending millions of dollars hiring the best and the brightest of K Street."
Already, lawmakers from Connecticut, Florida, Georgia and Washington State have raised a chorus of objections.
"We can't let civilian bureaucrats under the current secretary of defense make decisions that could harm the protection of our nation," said Representative Phil Gingrey, a Georgia Republican whose district includes the F/A-22 manufacturing site near Marietta.
Others chiming in included Senator Saxby Chambliss, the Georgia Republican who sits on the Armed Services Committee, and the Republican Senator-elect Johnny Isakson of Georgia, along with 13 other members of Congress, who wrote the White House saying the F/A-22 cuts threaten the nation's "global air superiority requirements."
For its part, Lockheed, the prime contractor, remains cautiously optimistic. Thomas Jurkowsky, a spokesman, termed Mr. Rumsfeld's cuts "a starting point" for the fiscal 2006 budget to be presented to Congress by the White House early next month.
"The White House now has to determine the direction the president wants to take," Mr. Jurkowsky said. "We will want to see what the president proposes and how Congress reacts. Then we will respond accordingly."
Originally designed to take on the best planes the former Soviet Union would have to offer, the F/A-22 has been 23 years in the making and is scheduled to have its first combat-ready fighter wing ready this December. So far, about 25 F/A-22s of about 100 in the production pipeline have been completed.
Responding in part to changing global threats, the F/A-22 was redesigned to allow it to make air-to-ground attacks and not just engage in aerial combat against other fighter jets.
It is the most technologically advanced plane ever conceived - more lethal, more stealthy, more capable of sustaining high speeds for prolonged periods. Able to fly at over 1,000 miles an hour, it was developed to preserve American global air superiority and replace aging F-15's, F-16's, and F/A-18's.
"It's a plane that sends a message to the world, 'Don't even think about competing with the U.S.,' " said William C. Bodie, a vice president at DFI International, a corporate consulting firm in Washington, who was once a special assistant to Mr. Roche.
That is one reason the Air Force still thinks it has a good argument. Initially, it recommended that Mr. Rumsfeld cut the number of Joint Strike Fighters and leave the F/A-22 alone. While not getting into specific numbers, General Jumper, the Air Force chief of staff, said last month that he was open to scaling back the planned purchase of 1,763 Joint Strike Fighters to spare money for the F/A-22.
Instead, Mr. Rumsfeld did just the opposite.
Marvin R. Sambur, the outgoing head of acquisitions for the Air Force, said the service would make the case for its ultimate goal of 381 F/A-22's at the coming Quadrennial Defense Review, a once-every-four-year Pentagon report to Congress on future military strategy, threats and procurement requirements.
Mr. Sambur rejects the notion that the F/A-22 is a Cold War relic and instead calls it a vision of the future. Early investigations into the Nevada accident, the first for an operational F/A-22, point to problems with the airplane's software and flight controls. While the fleet was grounded briefly after the crash, the planes have since returned to the skies while an investigation continues.
Mr. Sambur, also takes issue with the celebrated $250-million-a-plane price tag, saying it includes all research and development costs to date spread over the number of planes to be made. A more accurate price tag, he says, is around $115 million a plane, the actual cost of making a new F/A-22 today.
"The cost going forward is significantly less than the $250 million everyone is talking about," Mr. Sambur said. "You compare the incremental price to the cost of a new F-15, which is far less capable, and the difference is relatively small."
In a world where inexpensive surface-to-air missile systems can be easily acquired by potential enemies, the F/A-22 is so stealthy and maneuverable that it can shoot down these systems and escape, quite literally, faster than a speeding bullet. Other planes in the Air Force's fleet are more vulnerable to being shot down from the ground while on the search-and-destroy missions that aid ground troops.
"Our air domination is taken for granted," Mr. Sambur said, "but it is the key for everything else on the battlefield."
Besides, Mr. Sambur said, the F/A-22 will be combat-ready by December, while the Joint Strike Fighter cannot be fielded until 2013.
"That means we have an eight-year delay until the Joint Strike Fighter comes on," Mr. Sambur added. "We'd like to take advantage of having more F/A-22's and delay some of the Joint Strike Fighters."
The Joint Strike Fighter, currently in development, is intended to be a plane for all services and for all countries. It is being developed jointly by the United States, Britain and other European allies and will be produced in versions for the Air Force, the Navy and the Marines.
It will have one engine, where the F/A-22 has two, and with its simpler design and less sophisticated technology, it is expected to have a much smaller price tag of $40 million to $50 million a plane.
But because the Joint Strike Fighter will be purchased by three services and because it, too, has manufacturing spread across the country, it has a lot of political firepower inside the Pentagon and on Capitol Hill.
In the end, the decisions on both planes will probably turn as much on politics as on military policy.
"The F/A-22 program will be cut," said Steven M. Kosiak, director of budget studies at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessment, a research group in Washington that favors transformation of the military into a more flexible force. "But how much precisely is hard to say. Everyone agrees it's a good plane to have. But do we need 300 of them?"
Joe Cavaretta/Associated Press
An F/A-22 crashed during a test flight near Las Vegas on Dec. 20.
I just dont understand why we cant have chinese make em
I have to agree that this program is one that could be trimmed without risking our strategic superpower status. I love this plane and am a pilot myself but it's clear we own the skies with or without this plane.
The F/A-22 is a prime example of Augustine's Law. We need to get cost containment as a top priority in Air Force acquisition, or we will unilaterally disarm the Air Force.
We could have the Chinese make'm, but they will steal our design ;)
"With the work on the project spread over 43 states"
Monetarily inefficient, but the MIC calculated by spreading them out they have bought more congressional votes. A calculating calculation knowing the product would have faced cuts.
It was, or has become, a boondoggle but the ciruclation of money between politicians and the backers is thick.
And the Hog can do what we will have to wait until 2013 for the JSF to do. And we know the A-10 works -- very well...
Put a bunch of Warthogs up, and increase our chance of getting the job done.
The F-22 was and is a boondoogle of the worst sort! The USAF sold it's soul for this POS!
From that link: At the moment, the fighter, known as the Raptor, costs about $258 million a plane. That is based on an overall cost of $71.8 billion, and the Air Force's plans to buy 277 Raptors.
Unfortunately, we need to replace aircraft as they are getting old and worn out.
+ the F-22 has Merrill Mcpeak's fingerprints ALL over it!
I read an article that stated that the plane costs 133 mil. but you have to ask which cost is this. I still think it is worth it. I am no expert but our plnes are all aging, aren't they?
Other than the latest copies of F16s and F18s coming off active production lines, most of the other series of jets average about 20 years old, IIRC.
Looking at that pic, I'm amazed at the structural integrity of the plane. The plane is basically one machined billet of titanium.
One Very Important consideration should be fully expliting our high tech manufacturing abilities. And even more important loosing that capability. If we do not produce this air craft might we eventually loose this air craft manufacturing ability ?
This is the problem I have with the War on Terror. It has become a giant international welfare program. We should have killed Saddam, killed the Taliban and just keep killing any more terrorists who arise and threaten us. I don't get it, they destroy the world trade center causing more than $1 trillion in damages and somehow we are obligated to break our bank rebuilding these third world $h!t holes. We're scaling back the F-22 program, retiring an aircraft carrier, and canceling the production of new submarines all to bring "democracy" to these ungrateful demonic savages. To top it all of we then send economic aid to the palestinians and ME terrorist supporting nations. China is licking her chops and laughing at how stupid we are.
The cost of the F-22 can be computed one of two ways ....
a. Figure out what it costs to build the next plane - that is the procurement cost. (And per the article - it costs about $120 Million per plane.)
b. Figure out what it costs to build the planned number of planes at $133 million per plane. Add in the R&D costs of $40 Billion (this money is way high ... but is also "sunk costs" ..), then divide the total program cost by the number of planes purchased. Adding in the R&D costs to a limited procurement of planes .. and wow .. the price per plane is very very high.
Unfortunately, people who want to kill various programs will cite the total cost (#b.) ... without factoring in the fact that if the plane was cancelled, the per plane cost would be astronomical, and then the whole R&D game starts over as everyone starts trying to design a new plane.
And the JSF is still down the line ... and by the time it goes operational, do you want to bet that there will be problems, cost overruns, etc., that will make the $50 - $50 million projected cost to be a pipe dream - and way under!!
Ultimately, once the plane is designed and fielded - the cost per plane per item a. is what should be used ... and then a comparision of what you get for that money be used to compare with other options.
Twin engines (more reliability!!) and supersonic cruise without afterburners .... NICE!!! The JSF - single engine ... might not be quite as capable, and if the JSF costs 1/2 as much, but can only do 1/2 the missions ... then maybe we need a fair number of the F-22.
As to those who suggest more A-10s ... remember that the Wart Hog is for close air support and killing tanks. The F-22 is PRIMARILY an Air Superiority Fighter that can have other missions. I don't think we will EVER see the A-10 try to act as an Air Superiority Fighter.
Disclaimer: Opinions posted on Free Republic are those of the individual posters and do not necessarily represent the opinion of Free Republic or its management. All materials posted herein are protected by copyright law and the exemption for fair use of copyrighted works.