Is the Air Force lobbying for more F-22s?

If so, it’s about damn time. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates comes in for a lot of criticism from conservatives. Truth be told though, my only real heartburn with him so far has been his idiotic decision to curtail production of the F-22 fighter at 187 airframes.

Two Air Education Training (AET) F-22 Raptor from Tyndall Air Force Base, fly in trail behind a KC-135R Stratotanker from the 151st ARS McGhee Tyson ANG, TN after refueling during a training mission (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Master Sgt. Thomas Meneguin)

When he made that decision, he also basically told the Air Force leadership to shut up and sing the lyrics he was gonna write for them. Which was basically that the F-35 was going to solve every problem from Air Dominance to flatulence. But the F-35 program is in deep trouble, with development costs spiraling out of control, critical timelines slipping, and congressional support for the program evaporating.  Now, it seems the Air Force is quietly starting to push back on that decision.

The Air Force has apparently gotten over one of its biggest taboos: talking internally about the possibility of buying more F-22s.

Until recently, USAF was under strict orders not even to think about it, but recent developments have caused the possibility to crop up in some “what if” PowerPoint slides.

Those developments include likely further slips in the F-35 strike fighter’s schedule and an upcoming defense acquisition board review of the F-35 expected to be fraught with bad news on cost.

That would come on the heels of various deficit-cutting proposals that already suggest cutting the F-35 buy.

Without F-35, Air Force fighter inventories will plummet below minimums in coming years as F-16s age out.

Here’s the reason why ending the F-22 production at 187 airframes was stupid- buying airplanes is the just about the cheapest part of the procurement process. And, the more you build, they cheaper they become. First, there’s the obvious benefit of economy of scale. Second, the longer a production line stays open, the greater the learning curve. Lockheed Martin actually learns to build jets faster and cheaper. Finally, it only makes sense to spread the development cost across a greater number of airframes. The Air Force recently laid out a memo saying what they’d like to see in an F-22 replacement. Do we really want to start spending another $25 billion on development costs (or, likely, much more) to replace a jet that has no peer in the world? What the Air Force needs, right now, is numbers.  Building a proven design in quantity makes sense. Gates screwed up. It’s as simple as that.

Thanks to War News Updates

7 thoughts on “Is the Air Force lobbying for more F-22s?”

  1. *Hey, wait a minute!* You’re using ‘common sense’, that’s not fair! It may not be fair, but it’s wise. My Dad would often roughly translate Voltair, “Common sense is not all that common.” When my Dad wanted to drive his kids crazy, not a long trip, he would always answer our questions with a, “But what if”, type comment. There would always be additional variables to muddy the water. Dad was literally a genius, IQ in the top of the top 1%. My Dad lived his whole life before the time of the home computer, early part of the 20th century. Yes, he could have been an academic, but chose to be a tradesman, he loved to work with steel as a machinist.

    SECDEF and my Dad meet just to talk about the wisdom of the approach to the F-35. Dad would first say, “Sir, are you looking for high technology, low technology or appropriate technology?”

    Grumpy: “Appropriate technology includes new versions of legacy technology in a platform strategy.” The F-22 is on time, let it have its time in the limelight. The F-35 is like a wine before its time and you’re going to open the bottle. By the way, we should be tracking the money spent on weapons and see who actually gets it. We’ve spent an awful lot of airframe flight time, since Desert Storm I. Question, will UAV/UCAV’s, fill the gap as we retire aircraft? This is the *big* question.

  2. I think eventually the F-35A will make a good replacement for the F-16. What it won’t do is replace the F-22 in the Air Superiority role. And there’s just no way the US can generate enough sorties with 187 airframes to meet the needs for coverage in any near peer scenario.

    And no, no UAV/UCAV will be anywhere near ready to fulfill the air superiority role for decades.

  3. Brad, I have serious doubts the 35 will be a good replecement for the 16. The 35 is only believed to be passable in an air to air role. The F-16 is better than passable. Within its envelope it is an excellent A2A platform.

    We’ll have to wait to see how things actually shake out, but the intial judgments on the JSF are not good, and the cost is utterly unacceptable unless it wildly outstrips anything we have now.

    As an aside. I flew to Albuquerque Monday and spent 3 hours next to a retired A-10 driver. He said he would have reacted violently to a proposal to transfer the Hogs to the Army. He hedge a lot on the AF attitude towards the Hog, however. We certainly agreed, totally, I might add, that Gates was quite stupid to end F-22 production.

    Interestingly, he was of the opnion that the AF would eventually be forced to train Warrant Officer pilots. I thought the AF was stupid to end the Warrant ranks back in ’59. They did it for social reasons, which is the poorest reason of all.

  4. To both Brad and QM: Why the “UAV/UCAV” comment? Many people have the idea, this will be here and functional, within the next 5-10 years, at the most. I believe the more realistic expectation is more than a 100 years from now. I’ll be glad, if you prove me wrong.

    This whole F-22/F-35 debate is much like the old F-16/F-15 debate. Everybody had the idea F-15, with all of its options, was the way to go. But many places still went ahead with the F-16 and are still flying. On top of that debate, you put another layer, the stealth debate. By the way, how much of that stealth aircraft still flying? Where do we file all of these lessons, for a “Lessons Learned” folder?

    One last point, SECDEF, Gates is leaving, he should have kept his mouth shut on this issue.

  5. Yeah, it’s like the F-15/F-16 debate (small #s of high capability and large #s of acceptable multi-role capability), except it’s not really.

    The Navy is buying the F-35 and its legs are too short to even get inside modern anti-ship missile ranges. Plus it’s a major dog in the air and it can’t carry much of anything, unless you put external stores on and then it loses its stealth. F-35 is a repeat of the F-111 fiasco, when McNamara tried to make all the services buy one airplane. The Marines don’t need vertical landing (try logistical support when your airplanes are dispersed all over the countryside). The Marines have never used the Harrier that way and will never use the F-35 STOVL that way. The whole program is a stupid boondoggle, but DoD loves it because they sold it to a bunch of allies.

    Bottom line: Yeah it’s mind-numbingly dumb to stop buying a great airplane after you’ve spent all the development costs. That’s why the B-2 was $2 billion (that’s with a B) per airplane.

  6. Did I read that correctly? “The Air Force recently laid out a memo saying what they’d like to see in an F-22 replacement.”
    Really. You know that air craft that kicks ass in every category, exceeds expectations, is without peer in air superiority across the globe and the one that had already gone through production and would be ready to spool up further production should the word be given? You know the one? Yeah, how about a replacement to that.

    1. Yeah, I was just too lazy to dig up a link, but they really are putting out industry feelers on the F-22 program.

      Of course, the ATF, which eventually became the F-22 started right about the time the F-15 hit the ramp.

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