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.
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.
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.