If you’re interested in a more substantive take on why Mark Bowden’s F-22 advertorial in The Atlantic was silly, please read Robert Farley.
For a really serious look at the overall defense budget, procurement priorities, and national strategy please check out this report that Lawrence J. Korb, Peter Juul, Laura Conley, Major Myles B. Caggins III, and Sean Duggan did for CAP. To just quote their brief capsule item on the F-22, however:
The F-22 is a superb fighter aircraft, but it is unsuited for the irregular challenges of the near future. Ending F-22 production after 183 planes will still leave the Air Force with a strong silver-bullet force to meet any conventional contingency. Continuing F-22 production 20 aircraft a year for the next four years would cost $12 billion; that sum would be better spent on other priorities.
It’s important to have a realistic idea about how the defense budget relates to overall national strategy. At the end of the day, spending tens of billions of dollars on advanced fighter aircraft is not the best way to avoid a military confrontation with China. Indeed, in some ways doing so actually makes a military confrontation with China more likely. Either way, our relationship with other major powers is primarily a political problem, not a technical-military one and the scenario of an armed standoff should be avoidable through political means. By contrast, all indications are that any reasonable modification of U.S. foreign policy would still leave us wanting to use and credibly threaten to use air-to-ground attack capabilities.
The whole F-22 situation, one should note, relates to the broader institutional pathologies of the Air Force. Fighter pilots and former fighter pilots have a tight grip on the Air Force’s top ranks and institutional self-conception. But barring a bad deterioration in the geopolitical situation, the practical future of the Air Force will increasingly be the use of UAVs for surveillance and tactical strikes.