Despite the fact that Mark Bowden actually quotes an Air Force officer saying “This is not a paid advertisement for the F‑22″ in it, there’s really no way to describe Bowden’s new article for the Atlantic as anything other than a commercial for the program:
American air superiority has been so complete for so long that we take it for granted. For more than half a century, we’ve made only rare use of the aerial-combat skills of a man like Cesar Rodriguez, who retired two years ago with more air-to-air kills than any other active-duty fighter pilot. But our technological edge is eroding—Russia, China, India, North Korea, and Pakistan all now fly fighter jets with capabilities equal or superior to those of the F-15, the backbone of American air power since the Carter era. Now we have a choice. We can stock the Air Force with the expensive, cutting-edge F‑22—maintaining our technological superiority at great expense to our Treasury. Or we can go back to a time when the cost of air supremacy was paid in the blood of men like Rodriguez.
This is accompanied by a video that, like the above quote, is about as subtle as a red, white and blue tuxedo.
Both the article and video cite the Cope India 2004 exercises — in which Indian pilots flying Russian-built Su‑30s, MiG-21s and -29s performed surprisingly well against U.S. pilots in F-15s and -16s — as evidence in favor of the F-22. As Noah Shachtman noted at the time, USAF pilots participated in Cope India under self-imposed handicaps — it was in no sense a straight fight, let alone an actual representation of how U.S. pilots and equipment would perform in a plausible combat scenario. It was, however, trumpeted throughout the media as a “wake-up call” demonstrating the need to spend huge quantities of money on the F-22 — precisely as it’s deployed in Bowden’s article. Echoing comments that I’ve heard from a number of others, Shachtman quoted a contributor to the National Security roundtable who snarked “What better way to keep an aerial boondoggle like the F-22 program healthy and sucking up funds” than to rig and promote an exercise just like that?
Maybe all that money that Boeing and Lockheed Martin have been pouring into publicity for the F-22 is showing results. Or maybe they just got this one for free.