Procurement: F-22 Exports

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March 17,2008: Despite a law forbidding the export of the American F-22 fighter, three nations (Australia, Japan and Israel) are pressuring the U.S. to allow such sales. But the law forbidding the export of the F-22 can be changed. At one time there was a similar prohibition to the export of the F-16.

The F-22 has performance that is far superior to that of any other aircraft in service, and several foreign air forces would like some of these aircraft. The combination of speed, advanced electronics, and stealth technology has created such a decisive advantage that F-22s are often matched up against as many as six F-15s to ensure their pilots face a challenge during training. So why is the F-35, with somewhat lower performance, getting all the export orders?

The first reason is price. The F-22 costs up to $200 million each (without even counting the huge R&D costs). The F-35 costs less than half as much. This is one reason the U.S. is pushing exports of the F-35. This is why many more F-16s were exported, compared to the F-15. Another reason is that the United States does not want the F-22's secrets to fall into the hands of a hostile power. China has acquired at least one F-16 from Pakistan, Russia was able to acquire an F-14 from Iran, and the United States got its hand on a MiG-25 flown in by a Russian defector. There is a chance the F-35 could end up in enemy hands, even with efforts to prevent unauthorized technology transfer, but the technology loss would not be as great as losing an F-22. In any event, the F-35 will outclass a Rafale, F-15E, or Eurofighter, but not the F-22. The U.S. Air Force is using the F-22 as part of a high-end/low-end mix with the F-35, much like the F-15 and F-16 were the combination in the 1990s, only the F-22/F-35 combination will be much harder to detect, and defend against.

But the enormous edge of the F-22, and its usefulness as part of a high/low mix, can be a decisive advantage in many situations. That could cause problems. Israel might use F-22s for an attack on Iranian nuclear facilities, and one might be lost. That would be an intelligence disaster of the first magnitude. Japan has had problems in the past in protecting secret U.S. military technology. But the U.S. Air Force sees export sales as a way to keep the F-22 production line active, giving it more time to persuade Congress to allow more to be built for the U.S.

 


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