Leadership: Generals Plead for More F-22s

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February 20, 2008: U.S. Air Force generals are insisting that, if they don't get an additional $30 billion, to buy 200 more F-22 fighters, the United States will lose the world-wide air superiority it has held since World War II. The U.S. is building 183 F-22s, and still has over 400 F-15s in service, along with over a thousand F-16s. U.S. pilots are the best trained in the world, and have state-of-the-art radars, missiles and electronic warfare gear. And then there's the U.S. Navy, which deploys over a thousand F-18 fighters, plus many more support aircraft. The Department of Defense has been telling the air force it can't have more money, and Congress has agreed with that assessment. So the air force generals are trying to go to the public. Thus the publicity the air force has been giving it current woes with F-15 aircraft that have been grounded by stress fractures, while they still have, in theory, several thousand hours (in the air) of service left.

What the air force is pitching is the need for the maximum number of F-22s in the event of a war with China. Now China only has about 400 modern jet fighters, and about ten times as many older ones. If the U.S. were called on to help defend Taiwan against a Chinese attack, there would be a premium on getting the greatest number of top-quality U.S. Air Force fighters to Taiwan as quickly as possible. That would mean F-22s, lots of them.

But the U.S. could defeat the Chinese air force with current F-15s and F-16s. Chinese pilots are poorly trained and led, and their equipment is often a generation behind what U.S. pilots use. Moreover, the U.S. has allies in the area (Taiwan and Japan), which possess large air forces. The U.S. Air Force is seen as a victim of its own propaganda. The latest fighter, the F-22, costs $160 million to build. That's twice what the new "light fighter" (the F-35) costs, which is, in turn, twice what a new F-15C would cost. As fighter aircraft become more expensive, you build fewer of them. That's a trend that has going on for the last sixty years. The air force generals are finding few supporters in this quest for more money. China, Iran or North Korea would all appreciate fewer U.S. Air Force fighters in general, but the number now available is sufficient to control the air over all three of these countries, and they know it. For the pilots going into combat, "too much ain't enough" when it comes to how many F-22s they have, but with limited money for all the services, most have to settle for "just enough."

 


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