Leadership: February 15, 2005

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In January, 2005, the U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. John Jumper completed fifty hours of training to qualify as an F-22 pilot. The budget for building the new aircraft is under tremendous pressure because of its high cost (over $200 million per plane) and debates over whether it is worth the cost. Most senior air force officers (especially those who were fighter pilots) believe that it is. But those who take a broader view are less optimistic. In the last few decades, the most valuable air force aircraft have been such old standbys like the A-10, AC-130, C-130 and B-52. 

Newer, it appears, is not always better. Or at the least, more useful. The F-22 was designed in the last decade of the Cold War (1947-1989), and was intended to incorporate expensive new technologies and deal with the expected next generation of Russian fighters and anti-aircraft systems. But with the Soviet Union gone, so were those new warplanes. The U.S. Air Force made the case that the F-22 would be more cost-effective in any future air war than existing American fighters. But no one has been able to make a convincing case for that. The problem is that, at the moment, there is no major military power that is likely to take on the United States. The most likely opponent is China, which has an air force largely composed of ancient technology (aircraft designed in the 1960s and 70s.) But what China has done is recognize the importance of electronics and weapons. The most common Chinese warplane are copies of the Russian MiG-21 (including the two engine version, the J-8). The Chinese have been equipping these old designs (many of the aircraft have been actually built in the last decade) with modern electronic and better missiles. This makes these older aircraft designs much more lethal. The United States has been doing the same thing with its F-16s, F-15s and F-18s. The F-22 adds a more stealthy design, with more efficient engines. This means the F-22 can cruise at about 1,800 kilometers an hour. Thats more than twice the speed of other fighters, which can only achieve that speed using their afterburner, which means you use over twenty times more fuel. Thus the F-22 can get to distant places more quickly. However, the U.S. Air Force has been unable to provide wargaming evidence that this is worth the high cost of the aircraft. But for many senior air force leaders, the F-22 has become a matter of faith. Since wargames are not perfect representations of war, theres always a chance this faith is not misplaced. Thus general Jumper has made it clear where he stands by taking the time to become a qualified F-22 pilot. 

 


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