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The F-22 Raptor Suffers Friendly Fire July 21, 2009

Posted by SV in China, Iran, Politics, Russia, U.S. Budget, U.S. Government.
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Perhaps you were not aware of it, but today was a great day for Russia and China.  The party elites and defense establishments in Moscow and Beijing surely looked on with glee as the Senate voted 58-40 in favor of the McCain-Levin amendment to halt production of the F-22 Raptor at 187 planes.  This contrasted with the House defense authorization bill which allotted funding for an additional 7 of the $150 million planes.  The bill will now have to go to conference committee for the House and Senate to work out their differences between the bills.

The opponents of the F-22 make three main charges – that the jet costs too much, is not being used in Iraq or Afghanistan, and that the money could be better spent on the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

Though the pricetag of the jet is significant (around $150 million), it is a lot of bang for the buck.  It is literally the only fifth-generation fighter that is operational and ready-for-use today.  Its capabilities are through the roof – stealth that reduces its radar signature substantially, the ability to cruise at high speeds and high altitudes, and a maneuverability and advanced avionics that allow it to outfight any jet in the world.  Though the $1.5 billion for the additional jets may seem like a lot in a time of deficit spending (but compare it to the stimulus or auto bailout for some perspective), it is necessary to keep the expertise and suppliers available for future fighter production.  If the F-22 assembly line is shut down, valuable engineering skills and unique material suppliers will scatter to different employers or go out of business, making a reversal of this decision very difficult.  Given the long amount of lead time in government defense contracts (the F-22 was 20 years in the works), shutting down production would spell the end of the quick replacement ability necessary for unforeseen contingencies.

The charge that the Raptor is not being used in Iraq or Afghanistan, made especially by Senator McCain, is true but misleading.  McCain is suffering from this-war-itis as he charges defense contractors with “next-war-itis.”  The F-22 is designed primarily for air superiority missions.  Obviously insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan have no air force or contested airspace.  But Iran, thanks to Russian suppliers, is equipped both with Russian-modified jets and surface-to-air missiles.  If a strike was deemed necessary to eliminate Iran’s nuclear program, a jet like the F-22 would be necessary to supress enemy air forces and destroy anti-aircraft installations before the strike fighters would fly in.  Beyond that, the F-22 chiefly serves to deter conventional aggression by China and Russia.  Since those nations may be at least a decade away from fielding their own fifth-generation fighters, the American Raptor force serves as a reminder that they would be denied air superiority in any future conflicts over Eastern Europe or Taiwan.

Many F-22 detractors also claim that the money for additional planes would be better spent on funding the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, which every branch of the military will field, as well as many U.S. allies.  The F-35, though also a fifth generation stealth jet, is not designed for air superiority missions and is not as maneuverable or able to travel at the same speeds or altitudes as the F-22.  Moreover, the F-35 will not be operational on a significant scale for at least a couple of years (once the assembly lines reach full capacity, they will be able to produce approximately 350 planes a year).  The F-22 and F-35 are a great “team” due to synergy – by having a mix of both planes, they are more effective and less are needed overall.  Emphasizing the F-35 too much while the F-22 is kept at a small force (less than half what the Air Force deems necessary) will reduce the overall potential effectiveness of the U.S. Air Force.  For further analysis on the distinction between the F-22 and F-35, see David Centofante’s column here.

The F-22, a perennial punching bag, was beaten today, not by enemy air forces, but by a misguided United States Senate.  Part of it may be a lack of public understanding about the Raptor’s importance, as a highlighted in this earlier post.  Part of it is surely a knee-jerk distrust of big government contracts and expensive defense systems (witness the recent fate of missile defense).  But most of it is a lack of leadership on the part of U.S. politicians.  Too concerned with spending money that will benefit them (or their districts) immediately, they are neglecting the long-term health and vitality of the country.  Also, they are far too negligent about the capabilities and intentions of our adversaries in Moscow and Beijing.  After all, if a defense amendment is going to benefit Russians and Chinese, shouldn’t a good leader question its prudence?

F-22 Raptor, air dominance achieved

Avoiding the ‘End of History’ Syndrome: The US Military of the 21st Century December 22, 2008

Posted by SV in Asia, China, History, Iran, Nuclear Proliferation, Russia, Terrorism, U.S. Government.
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The New York Times ran an op-ed recently (“How to Pay for a 21st-Century Military”) that erroneously recommends how to modernize the US military. The NYT uses the Global War on Terror as the basis for its suggestions of how to cut costs and increase effectiveness in the military. To do so is to repeat the error made by Francis Fukuyama in the 1990s of suggesting we had reached “the end of history” with the fall of the Soviet Union. GWOT is a temporary divergence from the norm of warfare, and the military must remain prepared to engage in inter-state war if America is to remain the strongest power.

Why the New York Times article is wrong (it would be beneficial to read the original op-ed):

1. Great power war is still a possibility. The recommendations to halt production of the Air Force’s F-22 Raptor, cancel the DD-G 1000 Zumwalt class destroyer, and stop churning out Virginia class submarines are all naive in the extreme. These weapons systems have critical roles to play in the contingencies of great power conflict.

The F-22 is the top of the line fighter that can achieve air supremacy and defeat an enemy air force more quickly and efficiently than the slightly-less capable F-35. As the F-16s age and grow increasingly less effective for counterinsurgency and inter-state operations, the F-22 is needed to maintain the Air Force’s comparative advantage over a host of possible rivals.

The Zumwalt class destroyer, which the Navy is only getting two of, would play a vital role in a conflict in which the US had long sea-lines of communication (i.e., in the Middle East or Asia). The Navy’s current program seeks to maintain a fleet of 313 ships, close to an all-time low. To cut it even further risks stretching it too thin to respond to a range of possible crises.

The writers’ recommendation to cancel production of the Virginia class attack submarine also reflects their lack of understanding of future conflict. Though they rightly point out that it is a public works project and designed for operations against China, they neglect why these are positive aspects. After a US nuclear submarine sunk with crew and engineers on board, after the US had stopped building submarines regularly, it was decided that we needed to continuously build subs so that the technical experience, facilities, and infrastructure were not lost. Also, subs would play a pivotal role in a conflict with China, and more are needed if that contingency would occur.

Regarding their criticism of “premature deployment of missile defenses,” see my post on “Defanging Deterrence.” The Marine Corps’ V-22 Osprey, though there is almost no comparable aircraft, could likely be cut without impacting the Corps’ overall effectiveness. It has had 25 years to be perfected, and still has safety and reliability issues.

2. Reducing nuclear weapons further would contribute to proliferation. After the Moscow Treaty of 2002 that set the number of nuclear warheads for the US and Russia at 1700-2200, there were opposing calls to cut the numbers further or to stop cutting them. Though it is fashionable to believe nuclear weapons no longer have a role to play, they are essential to deterrence and non-proliferation.

Cutting the inventory further would undermine deterrence because without a diverse and robust arsenal, other nations may not find our deterrent as credible as it once was. Also, reducing the reserve stockpile could be disastrous. Since the US has not tested any of its nuclear weapons since the early 1990s, if a problem were discovered with one of the few types of warheads, the reserve would have to temporarily fill-in on the missiles until the error were fixed. Cutting the reserve requires an end to talks of a comprehensive test ban treaty, something the NYT is unwilling to discuss.

Reducing the number of nuclear warheads in the US arsenal is also something many of our allies will not tolerate. Under the “deal,” the US would retain nuclear weapons so that they would not need to. If the US cuts its numbers further, Japan, South Korea, Turkey, Egypt, Germany, and Poland may decide to acquire a nuclear capability. Many of these allies were upset with the Moscow Treaty, and do not want the US to cut its inventory further. To stop proliferation of nuclear weapon states, the US needs a large arsenal.

3. The Global War on Terrorism is not the defining model of warfare for the 21st-century. Though it has dominated the first decade, the GWOT will likely remain a low-intensity, long-term action that will not warrant drastic changes in the military.

Increasing the size of the Army and Marines is a good step towards modernizing the US military, but not at the cost of the Navy or Air Force. All services play an important and interconnected role in conducting operations. Like a three (or four)-legged stool, if one of the legs is shortened or lengthened while the others are not, it will not remain efficiently functioning.

The editors’ calls to expand the Navy’s littoral combat ships and resupply the National Guard and Reserves are all important actions, but they cannot expect to cut vital weapons programs to meet those goals. America still has very dangerous potential enemies in the world, and terrorists, while a considerable threat, are not an existential threat.

In conclusion, the writers of this op-ed are still stuck in the “end of history” thesis. They believe that because most of these weapons systems were designed for conflict with the Soviet Union, they are now obsolete. They ignore the peril posed by aggressive states like Russia, China, North Korea, Iran, and potential adversaries like Venezuela or Pakistan. If they want to cut costs or make the military more effective, they need to focus their attention on bloated bureaucracies, red tape around weapons development, and cutting select programs like the Osprey, airborne-laser, etc.

Warfare for thousands of years has normally been between states or nations. To suggest that this notion is obsolete in the 21st-century is to neglect the lessons of history. Similar feelings were the rage in Europe after the Congress of Vienna in 1815, after WWII in 1945, and with the fall of the Soviet Union. Even President Jefferson believed in the future states would wage war solely through economic means. History has not come to an end, and neither has traditional warfare, therefore the United States should be prepared to fight and win any conflict that erupts, whether counterterrorism or inter-state.

Defanging Deterrence: The Fate of Missile Defense in an Obama Administration November 10, 2008

Posted by SV in Election 2008, Homeland Security, Nuclear Proliferation, President Bush, President Obama, U.S. Foreign Relations.
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The Obama campaign was consistently centered around the ambiguous theme of change (after “hope”) and successfully marketed it to the American people.  The question now becomes, will this be selective change or drastic change?  After all, while Americans have given President Bush a low approval rating, not only does his approval rise when asked about certain issues, the vote of last Tuesday should not be seen as a total repudiation of Bush Administration policies.  There is, still, wide consensus on a number of issues.  Also, the percentage of people identifying themselves as liberal and conservative remained steady (despite the fact Rasmussen found that Democrats were four times as likely to want to take an exit poll).  So where does President-Elect Obama fit in on missile defense?

In fact, by searching all the transcripts of the Democratic debates, the subject of missile defense comes up once.  And that was by Senator Chris Dodd, who said we need a different set of priorities from missile defense (“investing in the bridges and the highways and the water systems” to be exact).  This is indicative of the Democratic Party’s stance on a vital defense issue.  They know it is popular, according to a Gallup survey in April 2002 (the most recent available), respondents supported the deployment of missile defense by 64% to 30%.  To oppose, cut, or reverse it is, then, a losing issue for Obama.

In the first presidential debate, Obama stated that “we are spending billions of dollars on missile defense.  And I actually believe that we need missile defense…but I also believe that, when we are only spending a few hundred million dollars on nuclear proliferation, then we’re making a mistake.”  Never mind the fact that counterproliferation is much cheaper than missile defense (MD) by definition, his solution is to cut MD and funnel some of the money to inhibiting nuclear proliferation.  Though it sounds like a good idea, proliferation has been kept largely in check (there is no deterring regimes like Iran or North Korea from pursuing nuclear programs with “friends” like Russia or China nearby) by current efforts.

Obama, along with most other Democrats, has stated that MD needed to be “proven” before it is deployed (see the youtube clip).  “Proven” has become a code-word for bringing something back to the drawing board and indefinitely suspending it because there is always the chance it will not work 100% of the time.  So what does this mean for the Missile Defense Agency (MDA)?  Expect to see the airborne laser system scrapped completely, the R&D funding for space-based systems eradicated, and a minimal deployment (less than 30) of ground-based interceptors in Alaska and California.  On a side note, Obama will likely be forced to move ahead with the “third site” in Europe due to Russia’s bellicose rhetoric about placing missiles in Kaliningrad.  To not do so would be international weakness not seen since Kennedy’s meeting with Khrushchev in Vienna.

So far, it seems like the programs Obama would have cut are the ones that are, admittedly, years away from deployment.  But, enter Barney Frank stage left with this quote.  The chairman of the House Financial Services Committee (of Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae fame) believes the US can cut the defense budget by an astounding 25%.  Such an unprecedented cut would come not just from ending the war in Iraq but also from MD and other future weapons systems.  Where, therefore, does “pragmatic, centrist” Obama mesh with the most-liberal-Senator-in-the-Senate Obama?

Despite extraordinary progress in the past eight years in the area of missile defense, Obama is likely going to set his “scapel” (or hatchet) to missile defense and bring it down to Clinton-era levels.  How else does he expect to pay for his massive health-care, tax rebates, and auto bailout plans?  “Proven” systems like the Aegis destroyers, SM-3 interceptrs, PAC-3 terminal missile defenses may survive the bloodletting.  But the goal of a layered sea, land, and air-based defense that could intercept missiles in their boost, midcourse, or terminal phases will be gone for four years.  If China or North Korea were looking for the opportune moment to launch an electromagnetic pulse attack or threaten nuclear blackmail, the next four years look pretty promsing to them.  As Obama makes abundantly clear in this primary-era ad (which you must watch), American primacy is not at the top of his priority list.  His pipe dream (or “smack,” since I guess he can afford it now) involves a world without nuclear weapons or rapidly developed combat systems.  Moscow, Beijing, Pyongyang, Tehran, and Caracus must be euphoric.

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