F-22: Won’t Win Wars, Won’t Preserve Jobs

Responding to the news that the Air Force will request an additional 60 F-22 Raptors, for a total of 243 — significantly less than the previous goal of 381 — the Weekly Standard’s John Noonan calls this “respectable — but inadequate.”

The Air Force’s previous desired fleet projection of 381 airframes was, in and of itself, an enormous compromise (planners originally banked on over 600). The Obama administration would nonetheless be making the right choice by choosing to invest in America’s continued air superiority, if they go ahead and order the additional jets. Here’s another humble suggestion: less money for DoD green initiatives, more for war-winning weapon platforms.

As is often the case in defense procurement, the USAF’s original request for 600 Raptors was basically a bargaining tactic. They knew they’d never get 600, but could get a number closer to what they really wanted when they finally “sacrificed” a few hundred planes and scaled back the request to something moderately less utterly unrealistic and staggeringly expensive.

As for the F-22 as a “war-winning weapon platform,” while there is an air superiority argument for the F-22, it’s worth pointing out here that, not only has the F-22 not helped the United States win the the two wars that it’s currently fighting, the F-22 hasn’t flown a single combat mission in either of them.


DoD green initiatives, on the other hand, actually have applications to the wars we’re in now. They make installations less dependent on supply convoys, offering fewer opportunities for ambushes of those convoys. On the downside, green initiatives don’t go fast, shoot missiles, or look nearly as cool when set to heavy metal music.

Moving on to other bad arguments for the F-22, via Rob Farley, David Axe confronts the claim that “more than 95,000 American jobs” depend on the Raptor. Axe points out that this number “counts indirect employment at firms for whom the F-22 program is just one of many clients.”

And it also counts Lockheed assembly workers who are in high demand for other aviation projects. In fact, ending Raptor production today might not result in a single unemployed aerospace worker. […]

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, not to mention the prospect that industry rivals Boeing and Northrop might lure Lockheed workers for their own active production lines for the F-15, F/A-18 and others.

Even in the New Depression, the U.S. has the world’s biggest and most diverse aerospace industry. Trimming a few dozen aircraft from one production line, and shuttering that line a few years early, will not put nearly 100,000 people out of work.

James Fallows also provides a reading list on the F-22, a good corrective to his colleague Mark Bowden’s love letter to the aircraft.