16
Jul
09

The fighter gap

It's true, the f-22 is pretty sweet.

It's true, the f-22 is pretty sweet.

In this post, I tried to make the case that the air force needed more planes since our current ones are getting really old. But a skeptic might ask, “why worry whether our planes are new or not as long as they fly.” Because the problem, simply put, is that old planes don’t fly.  On November 2, 2007, an aging F-15 broke apart during a training mission and an investigation conducted while the F-15 fleet was grounded revealed that an aging longeron (strutural piece) had given way. The fleet was grounded again on November 28, when the longeron problem was found to be more pervasive than originally thought.

Old airplanes must be replaced, but with what? Must the replacement planes be the most expensive F-22, or could we get by with new, upgraded F-15’s or the joint strike fighter (The F-35 above). To me, using these other planes to fill the fighter gap seem more cost effective. However, there are problems.

The joint strike fighter is not ready for production and so can’t serve as a short term solution to the fighter gap, and even when it’s ready for deployment, it will lack some of the features that make the F-22 capable of performing in environments filled with state of the art enemy anti aircraft. For one thing it lacks supercruise (sustained supersonic speeds without wasteful afterburners. Yes, the military is awesome at coming up with cool names for its inventions.) which makes it less efficient at projecting power into far flung reaches of the world. But even more important, the joint strike fighter does not have the stealth capability that will allow the F-22 to defeat other advanced fifth generation fighters and ground based AA. These technological problems apply to a plan to purchase newer F-15’s as well.

Now, since the F-22 would only be needed in limited numbers against an extremely sophisticated enemy, its unlikely that we need more than the current order of 183. However, holding the plane back for limited and temporary deployment does interfere with pilot familiarity and may cause pilot skill with these planes to suffer.

Currently, as the GAO reports, there is no business plan that clearly lays out the role of the F-22 in our airforce, and without this, it seems difficult to rationalize much higher purchases of the aircraft.

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