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More On The F-22 and President Obama’s First Pentagon Budget

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A spirited, nearly two-hour discussion on the push by the Obama Administration to end production of the F-22 was the centerpiece of tonight’s show. (Earlier posts from today on this subject are here and here.) I remain convinced that no great power should ever abandon the production of a war-fighting platform vastly superior to anything that great power’s enemies could field. Increasing the disparity of forces increases security, and the cost of full production of the F-22 is insignificant compared to the security it provides and the massive deficits now unfolding. Proponents of other endangered systems should resist falling for the zero-sum game put forward by the Administration that says, for example, that if we are to build more ships, we have to cut back on aircraft etc. The military needs 6% of GDP at a minimum, and has bumped along –even during these years of war– at around 4%. We do need more ships and more soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines paid at they rate they so richly deserve. The point is that we can indeed afford this robust expenditure, and the shuttering of the F-22 not only destroys high-tech excellent jobs and crucial industrial production capacity, it also diminishes our edge over near-peer competitors.

The Obama Administration has taken its first step towards a progressively expanding assault on military preparedness with this its first Pentagon budget. Conservatives and Republicans especially but independents and center-left Democrats as well, have to recognize this budget as the first and potentially decisive battle in the effort to keep the American military the greatest –by far– military in the world. It is up to the Congress to draw this line in the sand and force the Adminstration to avoid the errors of the “peace-dividend” Congresses of the ’90s. GOP leaders like Romney, Huckabee and Gingrich also have to make this a centerpiece of their public presentations. President Obama could have avoided becoming just another anti-military liberal, but this budget shows that he is of a piece with his starve-the-Pentagon predecessors.

It should be a robust discussion, though, and smart e-mails like this one will always be welcome:

As a Navy Surface Warfare Officer (Inactive Reserve now) plus my own desire to always be learning, I know a lot about a lot (as the
backbone of the fleet we have to know how to work with everybody else and thus what everyone else can do).

A few points:

First of all the Russian Aircraft mentioned [on the show] is the Sukhoi SU-37. It’s an incredibly acrobatic aircraft, but it’s essentially useless in modern warfare. The vectored thrust technology that they developed is tops in the world, allowing the plane to do things that are amazing (including flipping over on a dime to shoot behind himself). This technology is wonderful but waste don this airframe as I will explain in a second.

The F-22 is far an away the best air superiority fighter in the
world. It’s stealthy even beyond the F-117s that made such an impact in Desert Storm, so the enemy never sees it coming. It’s fast, currently (unless something changed recently) the only aircraft in the world that can supercruise (faster than the speed of sound without afterburners). It has some vectored thrust as well, so it’s very maneuverable (capable of maneuvers that the pilot would be killed during). But those things are only the tip of the iceberg.

The radar on the F-22 is currently undetectable by radar warning
receivers, as it uses a form of phased array. This means that the
enemy fighter will not even know the F-22 is there (no warning
receiver, plus no detection because of stealth) until the AIM-120
AMRAAM missile’s own radar lights off. At that point all the enemy can do is eject, because that missile is so supremely perfected that it has a cone of no escape, where no aircraft can escape the missile regardless of countermeasures used. The enemy’s position is even worse if the F-22 moves in close to use an AIM-9 Sidewinder, because that missile uses no radar, only Infrared, so the only warning the enemy will have, if any, is if he happens to see the missile coming (not likely).

Further, the F-22 can engage numerous targets at once. This and
several other key components are force multipliers. It’s common for a flight of 4 F-22s to go up against some of our own best pilots in F-15s, F-16s, etc. numbering 4 times their number or more during training and not only do all 4 F-22s survive, but they usually kill everyone else without being detected. A flight of 8 F-22s can
basically deny the airspace of Iraq or similar countries, and so 187 F-22s if well maintained and stocked with repair parts can control the world. Only when faced with the numbers that only a Russia or China can throw at us might there be a problem, and then only because of a lack of missiles. They’d have to constantly rearm and get back in the fight.

That, by the way, is why the Su-37, as great an acrobat as it is, is
useless. It’ll never see us coming in F-22s. They are a real problem against F-15s, -16s, -18s, etc. In fact the have a superior IR missile in the AA-12 Archer.

While I would like to see a few more F-22s, it has been discussed for some time whether we should make many, basically since before they started making them. Modern warfare doesn’t require much in the way of air superiority, because no one comes up against us in the air, or if they do, we see them so far away with our AWACS airborne radar that we get in behind them no matter what airframe is in the air. This is why the F-35 is the more important airframe. Aircraft must be multi-role like the F/A-18, because 90% of war missions are strikes or close air support, which the F-22 cannot do yet, if ever.

I’d love to call in and discuss further if you want to spend more time on the subject. Basically, I am disappointed in general by the President’s apparent Defense spending (or lack thereof). We need new ships terribly.

Jason Kercheval
Houston, TX

Lefty defenders of the president sense the political peril the president has courted by unveiling such a profound build-down in his first budget, and thus get used to seeing such smoke-screen observations as Matthew Yglesias’ “the U.S. military already account[s] for half of global defense spending.” After years and years of asymmetrical war, it should be obvious even to Matt that America’s percentage of global military spending is irrelevant to whether or not the U.S. military can protect America and American interests around the world. The U.S. defense budget might be 70% of the world’s total spending and not be enough, or 25% and be sufficient. What matters is the ability to deter attack and the ability to destroy enemy capabilities in whatever combination they appear. As the dominant aircraft in the skies today, the F-22 is one weapons system that guarantees American control of key battle-spaces –if there are enough of them. Why would we ever want to play that number close to the margin of error?

But bad arguments in defense of a bad defense budget are to be expected, though not accepted.

UPDATE: Another great e-mail, this from a F-18 pilot:

Hi Hugh–

I read the email you posted by Jason Kercheval on his assessment of the F-22 as it relates to future air combat missions the US Air Force would need to perform. He has some of his facts right, but has some big gaps in his understanding of the F-22’s role in the BIG PICTURE. A SWO should probably stick to commenting on surface warfare.
First, Jason overestimates the effectiveness of any missile in combat. They are not magic bullets and for every increase in capability of a missile, there is a corresponding and sometimes disproportionate leap in countermeasures against that capability. What I mean by that is, the Russian Su-27/30/37 all have countermeasures that can defeat and diminish the effectiveness of our missiles, both the radar guided AMRAAM and the IR guided Sidewinder. The reason that a incredibly high powered and maneuverable aircraft is needed is for when you get the “the merge” (where you pass as close as physically possible to an adversary head to head). At that point, all the fancy radar missiles in the world don’t do you much good–what counts is superior training in basic fighter maneuvering, superior thrust and maneuverability; namely the ability to put your nose on another aircraft and shoot them. It’s really that simple. They designed the F-22 as an air superiority fighter because that is exactly what it is–superior in all aspects. It’s difficult to detect by radar and it is likely that you would get the first shot with your radar missiles. When those missiles fail, the F-22 still maintains the upper hand because it will get to the merge with superior energy (ie, thrust available) and superior turn performance (ie, you can put your nose on your adversary anywhere he goes). As you have stated, the F-22 is needed because it truly is a superior aircraft in all respects, and the very fact that we have them deters potential aggressors. Parity, or just slightly better, with your adversary is not the goal–you want them to be totally and completely outclassed in every respect. That’s what the F-22 does. Also, given the base assumption in US military doctrine that air superiority will be our within a few days or hours of any conflict starting, the F-22 goes a long way toward making that a valid starting point for our strategic planners for decades into the future.
Also, Jason is correct that the F-22 is a force multiplier, but six squadrons is not sufficient to cover two major theater wars and homeland defense simultaneously, as US doctrine requires. I would say exactly twice that number would be the bare minimum to make sure the that trained aircrew and maintenance personnel, parts and deployment stamina are available. That number would require us heavily leaning on the legacy platforms (F-15/16/18) to do the workhorse jobs of close air support until the F-35 fully comes online. As I’m sure you’ve mentioned before, the Pentagon doesn’t say, hmm, this number of aircraft or artillery pieces or infantry division would be nice to have. They look at the total security requirements that US needs around the world to conduct two theater wars and homeland defense and arrives at the fleet numbers based on that analysis. The original number of F-22s they sought to procure was not just a number picked out of a hat.
Lastly, Jason paints a rosy of a picture of our capabilities against potential adversaries in the air. However, we are not the only country that has an early warning or Ground Controlled Intercept (GCI) system. Everyone does–it’s a fairly basic technology and hard to jam. Most of the air combat scenarios we would find ourselves in will be over our adversary’s territory, where they will have more than sufficient GCI coverage to be able to vector their aircraft with tactical effectiveness and counter our 4th generation fighters (F-15/16/18). Trust me on that one. The way you prevent another nation from challenging us in the air is to continue production of the F-22 thereby guaranteeing the potential adversary that they will inundated with a weapon systems that doesn’t play by the rules of GCI-based tactics.
Space fails me to go any deeper into it, but more F-22s is the best way to ensure American air dominance for the next several decades. The F-35 will also be needed to fill the workhorse roles of close air support, but the F-22 is how we will own the skies in the battles of this generation.


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