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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

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Why Americans Aren’t Sold on the F-22 March 31, 2009

Posted by SV in China, Russia, U.S. Budget, U.S. Foreign Relations.
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The F-22 Raptor is the next generation fighter jet that has been designed to ensure American air superiority against any foe during the next several decades. Its advanced technology and tactical capabilities allow it to be part of a first-wave (counter)attack that could achieve penetration of enemy airspace and get a first look at the situation and strike multiple targets while maintaining low observability and high speeds. Yet the Air Force has only been able to acquire 181 of the 381-minimum it argues it needs to fulfill its objectives. Despite full-page ads in the national papers and relentless advertising, a significant groundswell of support is still lacking. Why, then, does the public not seem sold on the need for at least 200 more F-22s?

The answer is not principally the jet’s heavy price tag, a question of its capability, or any alleged mismanagement of the procurement program. The major objection is the one of utility. People simply want to know, “what do we need another fighter jet for?” This response should not come as a surprise. To the general public, exposed to the popular news media and statements by their elected officials, the main threat facing the United States is the one posed by terrorism. Defeating a heavily defended North Korea or Iran is scarcely discussed. The need to defend against the possibility of a resurgent Russia or rising China is not even mentioned. If the only threat on the horizon is terrorism, they reason, why do we need a next-generation fighter that cannot attack terrorists any better than the current jets we employ?

The Air Force, however, has thought about the possibilities of facing a rising peer competitor. They know that the record of American air dominance is something that must be maintained and not taken for granted. The US has not lost a single soldier to hostile military aircraft since the Korean War and has not had a pilot shot down since the Vietnam War. Such an achievement was due to vigorous R&D that produced top-of-the-line fighters that were able to achieve and hold air dominance after each of those respective conflicts. It is the judgment of the USAF that it could not reliably sustain global air dominance into the mid-21st century without the 381 F-22s. Without adequate numbers, those records may be broken and American servicemen will be paying the bill with their lives.

What, therefore, is the solution to this problem? Respected military commentators like Ralph Peters are telling Americans that the F-22 is a “supremely unnecessary air superiority fighter” because no power can match our control of the air at this time. Without a visible, clearly existential threat like the Soviet Union in existence, Americans tend to revert to their tradition of experiencing free security and expecting peace to be the norm in international relations. The threat inflation surrounding terrorism may cause many to realize the importance of a strong defense, but they are not putting their trust on something they believe is not useful in the War on Terror. The solution is, as Herman Kahn struggled to get across to the American public in the 1960s, to think about the unthinkable; in this case great power rivalry or war.

This is not to suggest by any means that supporters of the F-22 and other future combat systems should insist that war with China or Russia is inevitable and that is why this new and expensive fighter is needed. Rather, elected officials and defense experts should insist on a return to the strategy of deterrence. They must make the argument that not only will the Raptor ensure air superiority for 40 years, but that it is necessary to have that capability for dissuasion and deterrence. A strong case can be made that the F-22 will dissuade rising competitors like China from challenging the US in the realm of air combat. Its advanced avionics and high technology can also deter a resurgent (and uppity) Russia from seeking a fait accompli in any future aggression against Eastern Europe (assuming F-22s are deployed in Europe).

To conclude, the F-22 is in trouble because Americans simply do not understand its utility and believe it is an unnecessary Cold War relic. This impression can only be reversed by policy-makers and experts insisting that the US return to a strategy of deterrence and dissuasion in order to defend against future peer competitors. If the US does not develop this fighter, its record of sustaining air superiority in every conflict since Vietnam may be at risk, or at least heavily compromised. Investment in the F-22 is a form of insurance, and the public must understand that, though it may seem like a high premium for a low-risk possibility, it will have a huge pay-off in direct (conflict) and indirect (deterrence and dissuasion) results.

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.