Thursday, June 25, 2009

Legislative Battle Rages Over Funds for F-22 Raptor

The F-22 Raptor is by far the most sophisticated fighter aircraft ever developed. It is also monumentally expensive, with a price tag of $339 million per aircraft when development costs are taken into account. Designed in the waning days of the Cold War as a replacement for the F-15, the mission of the F-22 was to be an air superiority fighter that would take on the Soviet Air Force.

When planned production of the F-22 ends in 2011, the United States Air Force will have taken delivery of 187 fighters. The White House and the Defense Department assert that no more are needed, that any additional F-22s would be a waste of money, and that the production line should therefore be shut down when the last of the 187 aircraft is completed. Nevertheless, the House Armed Services Committee has voted to appropriate $300 million in the current budget cycle as a down payment to purchase 12 more F-22s after 2011. Whether Congress wants more aircraft beyond these additional twelve is unclear.

This appropriation for additional F-22s is a needless waste of money and the effort should be defeated. President Obama has rightly threatened to veto it, and several key Democrats in the House bucked their party's leadership by voting against a debating rule that would bar any amendment to kill the F-22 funding. But because the production of the F-22 is spread across more than forty different states, there will be intense opposition within Congress to killing the funding.

Since the Cold War ended in 1989 and collapse of the Soviet Union two years later, it may fairly be asked what the actual mission of the F-22 is. While we have occasional tensions with Russia and China, the idea of an all-out war with those states seems remote (and, it must be admitted, much of the tension that exists is the result of our own meddling in their neighborhoods). In the unlikely event of a major conflict between America and either Russia or China, our current level of air power is more than sufficient to defeat them, and the coming deployment of the much-more affordable F-35 Joint Strike Fighter will greatly add to our security. Besides which, we will have nearly 200 F-22s as it is.

In the kinds of conflicts the United States is likely to fight during the next several decades, the F-22 is essentially useless. It's air-to-ground capability is no better than the much less expensive F-35, and commanders will probably be extremely reluctant to risk the aircraft in a war zone anyway. It is worth pointing out that we have been fighting a war in Afghanistan since 2001 and a war in Iraq since 2003, and yet the F-22 has yet to make a single combat sortie since entering service in 2005.

Jefferson believed in a military that provided the necessary security for the country at the minimal cost. In our time, he would doubtless want a vastly smaller army, and a significantly reduced navy and air force. Spending vast amounts of taxpayer money on unnecessary projects like these additional F-22s would have struck him as simply ridiculous. The motivations of the members of Congress who are pushing for more aircraft are purely about securing their own political careers and are not in the best interests of the country as a whole.

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