Skip to comments.Aircraft with advantages, or the next generation of wasted money?
Posted on 01/21/2010 11:31:48 PM PST by myknowledge
The Air Force is spending hundreds of billions of dollars on two fighter jets that probably will never be used to support troops on the ground in Iraq or Afghanistan.
Congress has decided to cap production of the F-22, removing funding for the fifth-generation fighter from the 2010 military budget. And the F-35 — also known as the Joint Strike Fighter — won’t be ready for prime time before 2013, according to the latest estimates.
Critics of the new fighters say they are too expensive and not needed in today's warfare, while proponents argue that the current aircraft are not as advanced as the F-22 and F-35, both of which would help the U.S. maintain air superiority for decades to come.
The programs have come under heavy criticism, mainly for cost overruns.
Each F-22 — there are about 140 of them assigned to six stateside bases — will have cost about $350 million under current estimates. The U.S. is awaiting delivery of roughly 50 more of them.
Winslow Wheeler, director of the Straus Military Reform Project of the Center for Defense Information and a vocal critic of both programs, predicts each F-35 might eventually cost almost $200 million.
Guy Ben-Ari, a fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the costs are "raising eyebrows left and right. At the end of the day, it comes down to resources, and they’re not endless."
Despite those concerns, the fighters’ advantages cannot be ignored, some officials say.
Maj. John Peterson, requirements officer for the F-35A at Air Force headquarters, said each fifth-generation fighter has four features that make it superior to fourth-generation models such as the F-16, F-15 and F/A-18. Some fourth-generation models might have some of the capabilities, but none has all four, he said.
Those four are the ability to evade enemy radar; maneuverability; the ability to take on varied tasks; and the ability to translate more data into usable information for the pilot.
A look at each aircraft:
Christopher Preble, writing on the blog he maintains for the Cato Institute, said he believes the F-22 "likely never will" participate in actions over Iraq or Afghanistan. But Preble, director of foreign policy studies for the institute, said that doesn’t necessarily make it a bad aircraft.
"I have no reason to question the F-22's capability," he said in a recent telephone interview.
Ben-Ari, a member of CSIS’ Defense-Industrial Initiatives Group, agreed with that assessment.
He said the F-22 might be able to carry out missions to support ground troops, but said that other aircraft such as the F-16 and A-10 are better designed to do so. The F-22 is thought to be better suited for taking on enemy aircraft and anti-aircraft positions as opposed to enemy forces engaged with friendly troops on the ground.
But there is the cost factor.
Preble cited a Washington Post article that stated that the cost of flying an F-22 is about $40,000 per hour.
So using the F-22 for a mission that other aircraft could handle, Ben-Ari said, "would be in the same manner as a Lamborghini used to bring your kids to school. You could do it, but do you really need to?"
Maj. Clay Bartels, F-22 requirements officer for Air Force headquarters at the Pentagon, said he believes the F-22 could take on ground-support missions today if called upon. But he said its primary role — ensuring U.S. superiority in the skies — isn’t needed in today’s wars.
"Air superiority is achieved already," he said in a phone interview.
Supporters say the F-22 is so technologically superior to other fighters that it will use advanced detecting and targeting systems to take out enemy planes from miles away. In such cases, enemy planes might not have even known they were in a fight until it was too late.
F-35A Joint Strike Fighter
The Air Force expects to receive the first of its 1,763 aircraft in 2013 — if testing goes according to plan.
The Marine Corps recently took possession of the first versions of the F-35 from Lockheed Martin and has begun its own testing. Congress overrode Pentagon misgivings and decided to spend an additional $465 million on an alternative engine for the F-35.
The Air Force, which projects that the F-35 will make up half its fleet in 2025, is involved in a system development and demonstration phase that Peterson said is set to last until 2014.
Wheeler, who once worked for the General Accounting Office, said that means the service will have purchased a significant number of aircraft that haven’t been fully tested. And he said he believes too much of the current testing is in the form of simulated models and table-top theories. He said more tests must involve actually flying the F-35.
Peterson and Bartels said the F-35 and F-22 are designed to provide specific, complementary roles for the service. But they’re only part of the picture. The service projects that some of the current generation of fighters will be used for decades to come.
Ben-Ari said the Air Force needs to not only deal with conflicts today, but also plan for future ones. "For the missions we’re conducting today, the current fleet is capable," he said. "For future ones … I’m not so sure.
"You can’t just draw up a design for a new aircraft and produce it in six months," he said. "You’re hedging against future risk. No politician or military officer wants to be the one who, looking back through history, canceled a project or ignored a risk."
5th Generation fighters: Sky Warriors of the future, flying today!
“todays Warfare” that says it all.
While other nations prepare to take us on we can either maintain superiority or let it slide. Then, when our (insert favorite anatomical feature here) is in the wringer, try and survive long enough to catch up.
In the end the liberal politicians don't want us to have superior military equipment. Pointy headed think tank people like to think their pointy heads are the pointiest.
Meanwhile the men who do fly the F-22 and would fly the F-35 sure would like to have the baddest thing around when the missiles fly and the bullets fly. I think it is the least we can do for them while we blow our great grandkids future earnings on liberal make work dream socialism experiments.
While I think the F-22 and F-35’s should be developed, the A-10 and the drones will probably be our front-line aircraft for the future.
There is probably room to further improve the A-10 (although, I don’t know how) but, we’re not going to be up against Mig-35’s or Mig-29’s anytime soon
Now is the time to set our nation up for the next 30 years. The F22 has been on the drawing board for decades. It’s in production and it’s the best operational aircraft we have.
No it isn’t an everything aircraft. Still the day will come when we need it and then we better have it. 187 sounds like a lot of aircraft until you realize how many theaters we may need them in.
The production facilities are up and running now. Now is when you make them. you can’t just flip the switch in a decade and pop out another 250-500.
China and Russia are on the rise. They are increasing their forces while we allow ours to dwindle. Wrong headed policy...
I sometimes wonder - and I'm by no means an expert - if we shouldn't start budgeting for a few squadrons of inexpensive counter-insurgency aircraft, like the Super Tucano. Seems like they'd be awful handy flying COIN or laying down support fire for ground troops against bands of insurgents. And at @ $9 million a pop, we could afford lots of them.
Just a thought.
Genius comment-! This is what freerepublic is for-! Bravo-!!!
I'm not trying to sound stupid, but are there systems our adversaries have on the horizon that can seriously threaten us 10-15 years down the road with what we have right now?
Let me try and respond to your question. One of the paramount imperatives in a modern conventional battle is the achievement of air superiority. Without it, enemy airforces will pound on your ground forces (and as seen in the Falklands, even pose a significant threat to your naval forces). However, for the last four or so decades (particularly the last three), the United States has enjoyed a very good air superiority state, to the point that it became 'too good' (by that I mean it reached a point whereby it started been taken as a given ...as if US air superiority was some inalienable right only American USAF airforce and USN navair pilots were supposed to enjoy).
Now, so far that has been the case. The 'worst' airforce we have faced recently was the Iraqi airforce, and even that was during the 1st Gulf War (the best their airforce did was when an Iraqi AF MiG-25 shot down a USN F-18 ...all other downings of Allied planes was due to SAM systems). We have generally been fighting third world nations that either do not have the best equipment, the best training, the best communication, the best everything ...while on our side we are nigh perfect.
Question is, someday we might have to face off against a near-peer adversary (say, China). A near peer adversary who is able to provide more of a match than Iraq or Afghanistan or Grenada! A near peer adversary who has, for instance, AWACs of its own, but more importantly is able to deny us situational awareness by forcing our AWACS out of the theater (due to very long range anti-AWACS missiles). A foe that not only has a quantitative advantage, but has managed to whittle down our qualitative advantage. An enemy that is fighting in its own backyard.
To use such an example, the F-15 and other F-series legacy fighters (16s and 18s) are USELESS. Yes, you read that right. If Saddam's largely ineffective and old Soviet IADS (created to defend against a limited attack by Iran) still managed to down a number of allied planes (even with all the jamming and wildweasel attacks), what do you think China's advanced IADS with S-300/HQ9 SAM systems would do to F-18s? The current generation of SU-30, and particularly the upcoming SU-35, fighters are easily a match for any of our legacy fighters, and going forward they will be receiving not only AESA radars, but also supercruising engines. They outmatch, say, the F-18 ...it is just that our training is better.
Now, both Russia and China are working on advanced Fifth-Generation aircraft ...Russia on the PakFa, and China on the JX(X). While we are CUTTING our Raptors, they are gearing up to start unleashing their 5-gen aircraft!!!!
As for the 180 odd Raptors ...those are not enough. A scenario simulated by RAND showed what would happen if our few Raptors faced the Chinese airforce. For one, China would take out near airbases with intermediate range ballistic missiles armed with bomblet warheads to take out the airfields. The Raptors would have to come from farther out, relying on refueling aircraft. The simulation assumed that the Raptors are TOTALLY invincible, and that their missiles NEVER miss (not the case ...unlike the Iraqi airforce which was not trying to evade or jamming, China would be ...but the simulation decided to give the Raptor AMRAAMs magical pK ability). The Raptors decimated the opposing SU-30 Chinese planes, but once their missiles were finished turned to head back home. However, the Chinese planes were enough that some survived the onslaught, and those survivors had targeted the refueling planes with very-long-range BVR missiles, and thus the Raptors did not have refueling capability ...ran out of fuel ...crashed into the ocean.
Some think A-10s is all that we need ....the reason for that is because we have air superiority (without it, A-10s would be obliterated ...they are good against small arms fire, and even against a ZSU cannon fire ...maybe even good survivability against a MANPAD SAM ...but against real SAMs in an IADS environment they would be next to useless. During the Cold War A-10 pilots are Apache pilots used to jest with each other on which airframe type would be the first to go down if the Soviets invaded the Fulda, yet on FR people think Warthogs and AH 64s are invincible because of 'titanium bathtubs around the pilots.' In both Gulf wars the first planes to be shot down were A-10s!). We need air superiority, and while the F-15 is great it will not be good enough 15 years from now. Already the latest SU-3X airframes match it, and some on the pipeline (with the supercruising engines) are better than it. Already it cannot survive an advanced IADS like the one in Russia or China.
15 years from now, particularly if China was to smack its lips over Taiwan, the USAF and USN would quickly realize that F-15s and F-18s have lost their shine.
Also note that over the last couple of decades the American population has also come to expect a relatively bloodless war ...it will be interesting what would happen if an aircraft carrier was severely crippled because some vampires broke through ....
Thanks for the informed info...that’s exactly what I was looking for.
In any case the F-22 project doesn’t represent a clever strategy - the US spent a heck of a lot of money only to demonstrate to potential rivals what is possible.
To protect that investment it has to be hidden from modern conflicts so it doesn’t occasionally fall into the hands of copy cat chineese or russian hands.
While hiding it it uses a vast amount of money to be in service and stealthy - the slightest foreign object damage already blows the stealth advantage and repairs are really expensive.
So its budget prohibits a lot of other projects to be financed and set into reality.
It was fielded to early. Or maybe - given the development in radar tech. and robotics it will be to new until it’s to old.
Remember the f-117 ? the one the germans had on their F-4 Radar because they figured out what to look for and that was then banned from exercises and then completely phased out.
The stealth of those fighters is only stealthy to the actuall sensors of possible opponents. The birds are still emitting a lot of energy simply by moving fast and having mass. For china or russia it will not be a decade long task to build sensors that are suitable to find these machines.
In the meantime - what good has the F-22 brought to the safety of the US ?
An better example - with the first generation of after war submarines - only build in very small numbers, germany put immense pressure on the soviet navy. The existance of that weapon system forced the ruskies to build new havens in very remote regions and to beef up their baltic fleet with some hundered expensive ships - that really gave them a headache and cost them heaps of rubel.
If russia or china had to counter the strategic meaning of the existing or planned F-22 - would it really force them to spend more then that thread costs the US ?
Air superiority is the one mission it never makes sense trying to squeeze money out of, because success at it makes everything else easy, and failure at it makes everything else irrelevant.
Thank you. It’s a little self serving but I liked that last paragraph. You’re absolutely right IMO.
Kelly Johnson could. Under budget too. Eighty days from conception to product. And the damn things are still flying in active 55 years later.
You make a good point...and I salute you...
Air superiority is absolutely crucial to our national interest. The skies and space are the “high ground’” now and in the future. The “high cost” of these aircraft does not project quite as dear when considering the following:
1.Civilian assets like bridges, highways, cities, and numerous other infrastructure that will remain intact when under an air superiority umbrella
2. Military assets such as capital ships, ports, airfields, ground troops, and supply lines that will continue to function in their crucial missions.
3. The diminished operational cost of development and operation that comes with using high quality machines over a very long lifespan. The legendary B-52 is a good example of this principle. While the costs are very high at the outset, the R&D expense has already been paid regardless of how long you utilize the plane. Stretching the utility of the F-22 out over time and many units produces economies of scale in both dimensions.
4. The F-35, designed as a “universal” vertical take-off and landing fighter, is designed to eliminate the expense of flying so many different aircraft across all the branches of service and amongst NATO allies. Savings will be had in training and spare parts. The plane’s take-off & landing ability will enable smaller aircraft carriers and smaller bases closer to theater, both of which enable more economies of their own.
Halting production of these aircraft, now that so much investment into their development has already occurred, is foolish.
It would be nice if the guys on the ground had all the support they wanted. Seeing how they have done most all the fighting and killing and dying the last fifty years.
Money spent is money not spent on anti IED vehicles( fifty year old technology ), mine detection, language, culture and local politics. Recruiting a better officer corps.