In presenting his proposed budget for the Defense Department today, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates announced that he planned to end production of the F-22 at the current 187 planes — down from the 381 planes the government was expected to order. The aircraft has been the subject of fierce lobbying in recent weeks, and members of Congress have suggested that they would resist efforts to downsize the F-22 program. As a result of ending production of the F-22, Gates explained that he would increase production of more advanced aircraft:
GATES: To sustain U.S. air superiority, I am committed to building a fifth generation tactical fighter capability that can be produced in quantity at sustainable cost. Therefore I will recommend increasing the buy of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. [...]
We will end production of the F-22 fighter at 187. Representing 183 planes in the current program plus four recommend for inclusion in the FY2009 supplemental.
Later, Gates said, “[W]e have fulfilled the program. It’s not like we’re killing the F-22. We will have 187 of them. … The military advice that I got was that there is no military requirement for numbers of F-22 beyond 187.” Watch it:
The decision is welcome on two fronts. First, the F-22 contributes little to U.S. national security. It has not flown a single mission in the Iraq or Afghanistan campaigns. Further, as the Center for American Progress’s Larry Korb explained in 2005, the F-22 was designed to address threats that the U.S. last faced during the cold war:
The F/A-22 Raptor is the most unnecessary weapon system being built by the Pentagon. In fact, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld tried to do away with it in the summer of 2002 but backed off when his Air Force secretary threatened to resign over the issue. It was originally designed to achieve air superiority over Soviet fighter jets, which will never be built.
Second, the F-22 has become increasingly costly to operate even as the number of planes on order has decreased. The Pentagon recently announced that they would need $8 billion to upgrade 100 F-22’s which are already in use. The aircraft is “proving very expensive to operate … and it is complex to maintain,” the Pentagon explained. The aircraft’s readiness rate fell to 62 percent last year, which the Pentagon called “unsatisfactory.” Ending the production of the F-22 will free up scarce resources to fund programs more in line with our current security needs.
And ending the production of the aircraft will likely not result in massive jobs loss, despite claims to the contrary. As David Axe recently noted, the firms that produce the F-22 have many other clients. “A year ago the industry was worried about huge labor shortages. Shutting down the Raptor line would see thousands of workers snapped up for active production lines churning out F-16s, F-35s, C-130s and modernized C-5s for Lockheed,” Axe wrote.
Gates also announced an end to the production of the VH-71 presidential helicopter program. In February at the White House, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) told Obama, “Your helicopter is now going to cost as much as Air Force One. I don’t think that there’s anymore graphic demonstration of how good ideas have cost taxpayers enormous amount of money.”
,Yglesias notes that House Armed Services Committee Chairman Ike Skelton (D-MO) isn’t “leaping to embrace Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ efforts to change the Pentagon budget.”