Thursday, September 14, 2006

F-22A: A DoD Gadget and its Budget

On September 12, 2006, International Herald tribune had an article on F-22 Stealth Fighter, calling the plane as “the Maserati of the skies.” F-22[1] has a cruise speed of Mach 1.72 (1830 km/h) and a speed of Mach 2 (2120 km/h) or more (twice the speed of sound) with afterburners.

In November 2005 issue of the Air Force Magazine Maj. Gen. Richard B.H. Lewis stated that F-22’s ability to cruise supersonically is an essential future: “If you didn’t buy it for stealth, you’d buy it for speed”

Yes, F-22 is cool, fast and sexy like Maserati. But have you ever seen Maserati in top 3 of Top Gear rankings, several years in a row ? NO!

Then, why we should believe that “The F-22’s integrated avionics gives it first-look, first-shot, first-kill capability that will guarantee U.S. air dominance for the next 40 years,” as claimed by the promoters such Lockheed Martin, the plane’s maker?

This kind of outrages claim has already been debunked by Russians. In the mean time Sergei Ivanov, Russian Defense Minister, said production of the I-21 will commence in 2009 with a new engine, which is seen an alternative for countries that don’t want to buy the American F-35 or F-22.

F-22 has many gadgets and superiorities compared to F-15[2] but is it really a useful and practical jetfighter? Air Force believes that it is. See a complete coverage of Air Force Magazine on F-22.

The F-22 had a long development history, and been the focus of controversy, cost concerns, congressional cutbacks. See Wikipedia for a short complete background, Lockheed Martin for technical information. Also see Federation of American Scientist’s site for more detailed info. Defense Industry Daily gives new developments and updates.

Quantity, cost and budget

The US Air Force intended to have 750 F-22, but that figure was limited to 183 in 2006 (The US government Budget Office’s wish) even though the AF said it needs 381. The FY 2007-2011 budget increases the total buy of F-22A by four aircraft (from a planned purchase of 179 aircraft in last year’s budget to 183 aircraft).

Currently the Air Force possesses 74 F-22s. The first 172 aircraft have already been paid for. The US Senate passed a measure in June 2006 to extend multiyear contract beyond its 2011 termination date.

Even though the sticker price of F-22 is estimated at $130 million per plane, if its program’s overall cost of $65 billion[3] is counted the cost per plane rises to $361 million[4] (versus about $25 million for the F-16, and about $75 million F-15).

In its June 20, 2006 letter report on the F-22 fighter to Senator Bill Young,(R-Fla), chairman of the Defense Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee, Government Accountability Office (GAO) recommended no further funding for F-22 until DOD provides a relevant justification.

According to the GAO there is no clear justification that F-22 will increase the US national security and also there exists no threat to warrant F-22 because the DoD is unable to justify more F-22s and it is very expensive. Moreover, the GAO claims that the F-22 fails to technically qualify for the multiyear procurement plan USAF and Lockheed Martin seek.

The Testimony of David B. Newman (Congressional Budget Office) on the Air Force's Proposal for Procuring F-22 Fighters before the Subcommittee on AirLand, Committee on Armed Services on July 25, 2006, raised the uncertainty about the estimated savings from procuring the 60 F-22As through a multiyear contract.

Despite these the US Senate authorized the government to purchase 20 F-22 each year for 2008, 2009, and 2010 using a multiyear procurement strategy.[5]

In addition, very recently the House has recommended lifting a ban on international sales of F-22. Good for F-22 contractors…No surprise that “We never forget who we’re working for” is the motto of Lockheed Martin.

Growing operating and maintenance expenses versus new gadgets.

While the US Congress is voicing concerns about budget presently, the USAF by law must keep 347 aircraft on its ramps that it would prefer to retire. Of those, 51 do not even fly. The Air Force, on one side, is attempting to trim more than 1,000 old, maintenance-intensive, and less-capable aircraft from its fleet, to safeguard funds for future programs.

The average age of a USAF airplane is a record 23 years old. Today, fully one-fifth of USAF’s procurement budget is spent to modify and upgrade its aircraft which steers money away from the F-22 Raptor, the F-35 Lightning II, Predator and Global Hawk UAVs.[6]

The USAF wants to divest itself of 1,033 aircraft, (or 17% of its entire fleet) in order to free billions of dollars through 2011 to pay for 585 new manned and unmanned aircraft.
But, the House prohibited the Air Force from retiring any of the B-52s and U-2s and required USAF to keep at least 44 B-52s in the fleet until 2018, or until another long-range strike aircraft “with equal or greater capability” to the B-52 reaches initial operational capability.

Necessary or not?

Vice Admiral Jack Shanahan (USN, ret.), former commander of the U.S. Second Fleet, thinks that “America has much more pressing budget priorities than the expensive and unnecessary F-22.”

One thing is clear that whatever gadget the USAF and its contractors come up with will be outdated in a short time. Yes, the US is a very rich country. It can throw a lot of money away and make the defense contractors richer. But it will never ever be able to produce a miracle. Technology improves every single day and there is no limit to new ideas.

F-22 Raptor is very fast. But is it really useful, necessary, practical, cheaper, required, justified, and has no alternative? Or is it an expensive gadget? Wouldn’t be possible to reach the same desired goal from another path?

It is very unfortunate that in all the articles I read about F-22 there is no talk about its fuel consumption. It is only said that it is fuel efficient, but no statistics are given.

The only clear official statement I found is the following: “The F-22A consumes more fuel per hour of flying time than either the F-15C or F-15E, thus increasing emissions of most pollutants.” (source: p.55)

On many Air Force web sites it is claimed that Air Force goes Green. Is that a wishful thinking, politics or a joke? Because, the forward looking actions of today do not justify that.

My conclusion: The name of F-22A “RAPTOR” should be changed to “RAPER”.

[1] F-22 Raptor was also known as YF-22, F/A-22 and now called F-22A after formally entering USAF service on 15 December 2005.
[2] F-22 is the replacement for the F-15 Eagle air-superiority fighter (but will probably replace the retiring F-117As). Its origin goes back to early 1970s and became a formal program in 1985.
[3] Developing the F-22 and building a factory to produce it had $28 billion sunk cost. Air Force Magazine, November 2005, P. 41.
[4] Government Accountability Office estimate. It reflects the total program cost divided by the number of aircraft the USAF programmed to buy.
[5] USAF and Lockheed Martin have been advertising the multiyear procurement plan as saving money and have been pushing hard on Capitol Hill. Project on Government Oversight (POGO) has much to say on F-22 contractors’ improper influence on Pentagon decision making.
[6] Megan Scully, “Under Lockdown,” Air Force Magazine, September 2006, Vol. 89, No. 9.


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