TM NOTE: I finally met Winslow Wheeler at a Cato Institute military forum in D.C. He’s the toughest die hard defense budget cut hawks I’ve ever heard speak. He’s cross-posted here before. Danielle Brian, who appears in the YouTube clip on the F-22 below, was also at the Cato event and is a spectacular speaker. These people are some of the most ardent watchers of our defense budget, always there to criticize and push back, even if Congress is not. They’re unsung heroes in the fight to get our money where it’s most needed on national security.
It’s too bad some people in states like Texas, Georgia, and Connecticut think that pork is more important than a strong defense. The puny number of additional jobs and F-22 fighters that the politicians want – at huge cost – will make America weaker, not stronger. Some take solace from the economic benefit and relief from unaffordable defense systems they think they will get from the “Raptor’s” country cousin, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. They are wrong.
Narrow parochial interests outranking an effective defense has been crippling our armed forces for decades. Pentagon data show that America’s military budget is now larger than at any point since the end of World War II. However, our Air Force has fewer combat aircraft than at any point since 1946.
The Congressional Budget Office informs us that this reduced number of tactical aircraft is, on average, older than ever before. Still worse, Air Force combat pilots get one-half, or less, of the in-air training time they had, for example, in the early 1970s. Major reasons for this decay are programs like the F-22 and the F-35.
For the 184 F-22s currently on order, the cost is $64 billion. That’s an astounding $350 million for each. Too expensive to be bought in numbers beyond the puny 20 per year being purchased now, our F-15 inventory is aging faster than the F-22 will “modernize” it.
Despite the out of control cost, the F-22 is a huge disappointment as a fighter. For dog-fighting, its “thrust to weight” and “wing loading” (i.e. its agility) are barely an improvement over the early models of the F-15. Instead, it relies on its “stealth,” avionics, and long range radar-guided missiles to stay out of a dogfight and kill enemies “beyond visual range.”
What Lockheed and the Air Force forget to tell you is that “stealth” only means that against some radars at some angles the F-22 is less detectable; it’s not invisible. The history of “beyond visual range” radar missiles in real air-to-air combat is failure after failure. Do not expect the Air Force to have changed the laws of physics that make that so.
And there you have it: More money buys us a fighter force that is smaller, older, and less able to fight.
The F-35 “Joint Strike Fighter” will not rescue us. At $299 billion for 2,456 aircraft (that’s $122 million each), it is not affordable either. And, that unit cost is going up, not down. The program has finished only two percent of its flight tests; we will uncover more problems than the ones with the engine and avionics we already know about. Rushing ahead to produce more than 500 copies before we know the test results is a huge mistake, guaranteeing greater cost growth.
Sadly, even if not a single new flaw is found in that testing and the F-35 performs as promised, it will be an even bigger performance disappointment than the F-22. So sluggish in the air in a dogfight, one analyst said it would be like “like clubbing baby seals” if it meets up with competent fighters. With a payload of only two 2,000 lb bombs in its bomb bay – far less than US Vietnam-era fighter-bombers – the F-35 is hardly a first-class bomber either.
Both aircraft are equally bad as jobs-stimulus. Studies, such as by the University of Massachusetts, show that DoD spending is quite inefficient in creating jobs, compared to education, transportation, and even tax cuts.
Happily, we face no competent enemy air force in the foreseeable future. We should take that opportunity to start with a clean sheet of paper and design far more effective combat aircraft for truly affordable prices. We did that with the F-16 and the A-10 in the 1970s; it’s time to modernize: this time seriously.