The civilian and military heads of the Air Force have published an apologia for shutting down the F-22 program. I have to say, it’s not especially convincing. Here’s the key bit:
Based on different warfighting assumptions, the Air Force previously drew a different conclusion: that 381 aircraft would be required for a low-risk force of F-22s. We revisited this conclusion after arriving in office last summer and concluded that 243 aircraft would be a moderate-risk force. Since then, additional factors have arisen.
First, based on warfighting experience over the past several years and judgments about future threats, the Defense Department is revisiting the scenarios on which the Air Force based its assessment. Second, purchasing an additional 60 aircraft to get to a total number of 243 would create an unfunded $13 billion bill just as defense budgets are becoming more constrained.
This makes it clear that a 183-plane force was considered high-risk. What’s changed? Two things. First, we’ve been fighting asymmetric wars lately and they expect to be doing so in the future. This is the classic military fallacy of planning to fight the last war. Sure, we haven’t had the need for an air superiority fighter in our last few conflicts. Does that mean that we’ll never fight anyone with an effective air force again? From your mouth to God’s ear, guys.
Second, they can’t get the money. That’s no reason at all. It may be the case that Congress won’t pony up the $13 billion, despite spending an astounding $800 billion on “stimulus”. But that has no bearing on whether it’s a responsible decision.
However, they do make one point that we should note:
The F-22 and F-35 will work together in the coming years. Each is optimized for its respective air-to-air and air-to-ground role, but both have multi-role capability, and future upgrades to the F-22 fleet are already planned. We considered whether F-22 production should be extended as insurance while the F-35 program grows to full production. Analysis showed that overlapping F-22 and F-35 production would not only be expensive but that while the F-35 may still experience some growing pains, there is little risk of a catastrophic failure in its production line.
Much rides on the F-35’s success, and it is critical to keep the Joint Strike Fighter on schedule and on cost.
Whatever wisdom there is in shutting down the F-22 program depends on keeping the F-35 on track. Although the F-35 was not designed as an air superiority fighter, and will be a poor substitute for the F-22 even once it’s in production, we are now depending on it to fill the gap left by the incomplete F-22 program. But there’s been talk of shutting down the F-35 as well. Now, more then ever, we can’t risk that.