July 19, 2009:
U.S. Air Force leaders recently openly opposed the efforts of Congress to build seven more F-22 fighters (at $250 million each). The generals were accused of shilling for their bosses (the president and the Secretary of Defense). But the air force brass are being practical. The Congressional push to build more F-22s is more concerned with votes, than defense. Those seven F-22s mean jobs, and votes, for a number of legislators. Congress has long had an arrangement where members could depend on each other to get essential (in terms of votes and reelection) projects built. The air force (expensive aircraft) and navy (expensive ships, as well as aircraft) have long been the chief victims of this practice.
What the generals are really doing is sticking necks out for the good of the service. The air force knows it cannot get the money for everything it needs (or thinks it needs), and has to establish priorities. A new president and Congress is likely to cut the defense budget, and the air force is eager to get sufficient money to build thousands of F-35s, to replace the many F-16s and F-15s that will be retired, because of old age, in the next decade or so. Then there are the combat UAVs in development. These are the future of combat aircraft, and it's possible that these pilotless aircraft may become so effective that the air force will have to replace its F-35s early, just to remain competitive with other air forces.
The F-22 is an exceptional fighter, it has no peer on the planet. But it costs more than twice as much as an F-35, and is more expensive to maintain as well. The Congressional F-22 advocates are talking about building 57 more of these expensive aircraft. This would put a lock on a big chunk of the air force budget, creating a shortage of cash for F-35s, transports, UAVs and anything else seen as more essential to carrying out the air force mission.