Contradictory statements about the F/A-22 fighter aircraft are dribbling out of the Pentagon these days as it begins the process of developing a broad strategy for fighting future wars—a process known as the 2005 Quadrennial Defense Review, or QDR.
The Air Force generals, dismayed over budget plans by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to limit to 180 the number of F/A-22's to be acquired, are saying they're going to try to convince Rumsfeld—and ultimately the President and Congress—during the QDR process that they need 381 of the aircraft to perform their mission. But the Defense Department's top acquisition official, Michael Wynne, told Defense Today this week that the QDR is not the appropriate forum for arguing where the F/A-22 fits in. The QDR won't decide the Raptor's fate, he said.
POGO disagrees with Wynne. We believe it makes far more sense to first decide how, and if, the F/A-22 fits into the national defense strategy, and then tailoring the budget to military requirements. The 2005 QDR will be even more relevant to the nation's defense budget this time around as Pentagon officials look hard at high-priced weapons systems to either cancel or reduce in scope. In addition, the war in Iraq is forcing the Pentagon to divert money to more pressing soldier needs like body armor and armored vehicles.
We think the QDR should call for canceling the F/A-22 program. The Raptor has become an anachronism because it lacks a relevant military mission and a weapon of luxury because its price tag has increased to about $345 million per aircraft. When it was first conceived, the F/A-22's mission was to penetrate Soviet airspace undetected. Now that the U.S. has essentially militarily bankrupted and befriended the Russians, that threat no longer exists.
But the F/A-22 lives on. Last month, the Defense Department's all-powerful Defense Acquisition Board gave the aircraft the green light for full-rate production. Now the Air Force generals are grasping at straws, claiming the Raptor will be needed if the U.S., say, were to fight China. We'd need the aircraft to "kick down the door" by taking out surface-to-air missile sites, they say. (However, experts like retired Col. Everest Riccioni point out that a bomber or air-to-surface version of Raptor would be limited by its small internal weapons designed for airbattle missile and that it can carry only about half the precision weapons load as can an F-117 Nighthawk.)
POGO argues that the QDR would be the perfect place to reconsider dumping the aircraft without a true military mission.