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I was right all along – USAF desperately short of F-22s September 28, 2015

Posted by Tantumblogo in asshatery, disaster, Flightline Friday, foolishness, It's all about the $$$, non squitur, rank stupidity, silliness, Society, technology.

Long early Flightline Friday below.  This was such a personal issue for me I simply couldn’t pass it up.  I recognize many readers won’t agree with my POV below, preferring a US with little or no military capability.

Way back in 1999, a California Congressman (Democrat, go figure) started an effort to cancel the F-22 program.  The effort did not succeed, but given that this effort had begun even before the first full-scale development prototype had flown, it was not a welcome development. As a result of this funding threat, the planned number of F-35s was cut to 339 from 448.   Even back then, I argued vociferously (to the few who would listen) that it

"Agile Wing F-16"

“Agile Wing F-16”

was not the F-22 that should be cancelled, but the then Joint Strike Fighter (JSF), which has become the incredibly expensive and dubiously capable F-35.  I was very passionate about this before my conversion, noting that the JSF, which hadn’t even seen any hardware produced (the initial flyoff competition was still 2 years away), was too much a jack of all trades and seemed like a repeat of the disastrous F-111 program of the 60s.  History has born my arguments out.  I pushed as hard as I could (but having almost no influence) to see the F-22 buy reinstated to the full 648 airframes, the JSF cancelled outright, and numbers made up with vastly improved F-16s (plus an additional 160 F-15Es, enough for two more wings).  The F-16s would have been very much like the F-16E/F produced for the UAE, except with a much larger wing to restore performance with the increased weight.  Engine would be the F110-GE-132, a 32,000 lbst version of the then-current F-16 powerplant.  With the 50% larger “agile wing,” conformal fuel tanks, AESA radar, and other advanced sensors the F-16G/H would have been the perfect compliment for a very f-22-raptor_006large F-22 force.  The F-22 force would be the “kick in the door,” first day of the war force used to beat down enemy defenses, after which large numbers of F-16s (along with F-15Es) would be free to perform ground attack with F-22s continuing in the air supremeacy and destruction of enemy air defenses (DEAD) missions.  This would also, not incidentally, been about $200 billion cheaper than the planned F-35 development/production cost.

Alas, the opposite happened.  Pure politician Robert Gates, the man who has destroyed the Boy Scouts, instead cancelled the F-22 prematurely and promised increased production of the eventual JSF, the F-35.  But the F-35 is beset with all manner of problems, and even if it weren’t, is not 1/2 as capable as the F-22 in the critical air supremacy mission.  With only 186 F-22, USAF is critically short of air superiority assets and in any battle with a near-peer competitor would be hard pressed to have enough assets.  The F-15s are ancient and cannot serve much longer, so it looks like USAF will have a critical shortfall in air superiority aircraft for decades to come (the F-35 simply being incapable of that mission, it’s a bomb truck).

Others have started observing what I’ve been saying for almost 20  years.

We didn’t build nearly enough F-22s, and the F-35 cannot simply pick up the slack. So why aren’t those who pushed so hard to cancel the F-22 program being held accountable? [It was an entirely political decision, driving in large part by civilian policy-makers being exceedingly ignorant of the differing roles and missions of the F-22 and F-35.  While USAF fought as hard for the F-22 as any program I can recall, with both the SECAF and CoS falling on their swords to try to save the program, USAF fighter mafia does share a bit of blame for the F-22’s cancellation by insisting that the F-35 be called a fighter.  It’s not, it’s a stealthy marginally supersonic attack aircraft, and should be the A-14, not the F-35.  To policy makers, a fighter is a fighter is a fighter, so why buy two?  That was a key tactical error that had huge repercussions later on]

By the mid 2000s, the F-22 was finally entering the fray as the world’s first true stealth fighter, offering a quantum leap in capability and performance when compared with anything else on the battlefield. [And that same quantum leap remains today, but no matter how capable, 50 F-22s cannot shoot down 500 Su-27s] It was a thoroughbred weapon system meant to shape the battlefield by vanquishing anything in the skies and neutering enemy air defenses, so that less capable combat aircraft could survive over the battle space. It was a high-end door kicker, the ultimate “anti-access” fighter.

At the same time that the Raptor was coming online and proving itself,Defense Secretary Robert Gates, of both the Bush and Obama Administrations, was calling for the F-22’s demise. This was said to be due to the aircraft cost and use as “only” an air-to-air, destruction of enemy air defense, and deep strike platform. [There was more to it than that.  Gates waged an existential struggle against USAF demanding total focus on the “War on Terror,” to the point of completely sacrificing future capability against the high-end threat.  Bush 43’s defense policy was disastrous on many fronts, mostly due to his appointing two disastrous SECDEFs, Gates and Rumsfeld.]

Gates’s push for the Raptor’s demise came at the same time as the cost of examples of the jet were rapidly dropping. For the last batch of 60 of the super-fighters, the unit cost per jet was $137 million, which is pretty close to the cost of an “affordable” F-35A today – at a time when a similar number of F-35s have been built as F-22s, about 165 compared to the F-22’s 187. [I always felt the F-35 would be no cheaper than the F-22. download (2) So far, I’ve been absolutely right]

Costs were slated to have continued to drop if another lot of about 53 jets were built to meet the Air Force’s stated minimum fleet size requirement of 243 airframes. But it never happened.

Instead the F-22 was cast off and all of the USAF’s fighter chips were put into the very much unproven F-35 bucket. Gates justified chopping the F-22 as he wanted aircraft to “fight the wars we are in today, and the scenarios we are most likely to face in the years ahead.” [It was an article of faith among the political elite in this country until about the last 18 months that we’d never fight anything but brushfire, COIN type wars against low-tech savages. Today such faith looks as risible as it always was] Considering air superiority and destruction of enemy air defenses is an absolute must for any conflict (aside for ones with totally permissible airspace), this was a very near-sighted evaluation, and as it turns out, prediction of the future.

Gates further rationalized his decision:

To sustain U.S. air superiority, I am committed to building a fifth generation tactical fighter capability that can be produced in quantity at sustainable cost. Therefore I will recommend increasing the buy of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

A misleading statement if there ever was one, as it’s impossible to build something in quantity at a sustainable cost when you’re not willing to build it in great enough numbers so that a sustainable cost is achievable. It’s a bit of a chicken-and-egg scenario, but at some point, the costs eventually balance out.

For the F-22, that point was rapidly approaching.

The F-22 was by many accounts on the verge of a cost breakthrough that would have sent its unit cost plunging well below the $100 million line. Gates later said:

We have fulfilled the program. It’s not like we’re killing the F-22. We will have 187 of them… The military advice that I got was that there is no military requirement for numbers of F-22 beyond 187.

Considering that the minimum the Air Force said they could operate with was 243, this statement seems less than true. And that number was last ditch compromise, the real bottom-line fleet size the USAF required of the F-22 was around 339 jets, which itself was dropped drastically from the original number of around 750 jets originally envisioned. At 339 examples it was hoped that the F-15C/D force could have been retired.  [What was really hoped was that a long term program that yielded 340 airframes would have enough Congressional support and momentum to yield ~100 more to build the minimum fleet really needed.  Just as USAF only programmed 180 C-17s but really download (1)wanted (and got) 230 through Congressional add-ons, the F-22 could have done the same – especially if there had been no F-35 to compete with it]

Yet Gates was not alone in the push to cancel the F-22. The Bush administration was guilty of it too, although they were able to punt the final decision to the Obama administration, who demanded it be cancelled with a sharp veto threat.

Key Congressional figures like Senator John McCain also wanted the Raptor line shutdown. Their justifications ranged from the program’s expense, which was largely sunk costs for research and development over the aircraft’s 30-year gestation period, to statements proclaiming that China would not unveil a stealth fighter until late in the next decade, with no chance of it being operational until the mid to late 2020s. Today, China has two stealth fighters flying, the first one, the J-20, getting airborne well before the last F-22 even left the production floor. The timing of the J-20’s first flight also occurred while Secretary Gates was in Beijing meeting with top-level government officials. The event was a well planned propaganda affair that aimed to make Gates look bad for underestimating Chinese technological capabilities.

For F-22 supporters it was an unwanted vindication.

Another common argument against the F-22 was that the idea of America meeting Russian, or any near-peer state fighter aircraft, head-on in battle was a relic of the Cold War, and had no place in 21st century. Because of this, less potent, multi-role platforms were more of a necessity. Fast forward a half decade, and that statement is far from accurate. In fact, theF-22 just made its first deployment to Europe as part of a security package to deter Russian aggression and to reassure our NATO allies. The F-22 has also been regarded as a force multiplier in the air war against ISIS, itself attacking many targets with 6980090-f22-raptorgreat precision from the first night of air strikes in Syria on.

Back in the Gates years, naysayers, like embattled Air Force Chief of Staff General Michael Mosley and Secretary of the Air Force Michael Wayne, both supporters of the F-22, were gotten rid of. Mosley has since reiterated his frustration with the F-22 decision, stating that the shutdown of the F-22 program “will prove to be one of the most strategically dislocated decisions made over the last 20 to 25 years.”

He also said that follow-on batches of F-22s were quoted as costing well below $90 million per copy fly-away cost, which is about 25 percent less than the cost of an F-35A today. [The F-35 might – might – decrease in cost once production ramps up BUT at the same time a lot of capability is still to be worked in, which will push airframe cost back up. I expect the average flyaway cost for the F-35 over its lifetime will exceed $125 million per]

Nowadays it seems that everyone laments the premature F-22 line shutdown, from late-to-the-scene defense commentators to those at the very top of the USAF, including Air Combat Command chief Herbert “Hawk” Carlisle, whoe was quoted in National Defense Magazine as saying:

“We don’t have enough F-22s, that’s a fact of life. We didn’t buy enough; we don’t have enough.” However, the Air Force is going to make do with the Raptors it does have, Carlisle said. “You’re going to need the Raptors” for a high-end fight, he said. “So you’re still going to have to do that and we’re going to do it with the 180 or so F-22s we have.”

Because only 187 F-22s were built, with only about 125 of the jets setup for assignment to combat units at any given time, even fullfilling small detachments of F-22s to the Pacific, Middle East and European theater may be troublesome. As such, the F-15C/D force, which less than a decade ago was suffering from mid-air breakups resulting in a year-long grounding, has had to stay online to supplement the relatively tiny F-22 force.

With all this in mind, if we built enough F-22s to eradicate the enemy’s defenses, both in the air and on the ground, and improved the aircraft over time, perhaps even stretching it into an FB-22 with F-35 like avionics, would the USAF need an F-35A at all?  [With enough F-22s, the F-35 was superfluous.  It was the Marines in particular, with their enormous (this cannot be understated) Congressional clout, who drove the JSF/F-35 program to success in their demand for a Harrier replacement.  The Navy has always been tepid towards F-35 and would frankly prefer a bunch more Super Hornets.  USAF hasn’t helped itself in its F-35 support, either.  Lockheed and the supply base generally supported seeing the F-35 win out since it meant hundreds of billions in extra funding for them]

Instead, the force could be filled in by other high-end capabilities currently in the works, like a new long-range stealth bomber, stealthy standoff weapons and unmanned combat air vehicles. On the low-end side of the equation, plentiful, relatively cheap and proven platforms, like the F-16 and A-10, among others, could be available once air dominance has been AIR_F-22A_Fort_Worth_Air_Show_LMCO_lgachieved, or for lower-end conflicts that do not require the F-22’s high-end anti-access capabilities.

What makes things worse is that the floundering F-35 program has sucked funds for much needed upgrades on existing systems, including the F-22. In fact the F-22 lacks relatively standard technologies found on all of America’s fighter fleet, thus needlessly handicapping America’s “tip of the spear” fighter.

So what exactly happened here? If we clearly do not have enough F-22s today and it seemed nobody really thought we had enough at the time of its cancellation, aside from those with the power to kill the program, and the jet was passed over for the F-35, an aircraft that the USAF itself admits cannot fill the high-end role like the F-22, somewhere along the line disinformation was passed along to decision makers, or worse. So why don’t we pull those key decision makers in and have them explain exactly how they understood the situation at the time, what information and intelligence were they going off of, and who gave them that information and when?

It wasn’t disinformation.  It was a dogmatic policy decision.  One or the other had to go. That was the command from on high.  The F-35 was vitally necessary to the Marines, so it was the chosen son.  End of story.

Totally not unrelated.  I mentioned the 50 F-22 vs. 500 Su-27 (a top end Russian aircraft) scenario above. This has been gamed out repeatedly in simulations and war games.  The war games show the US repeatedly fails to gain air superiority in a conflict with China. There simply aren’t enough missiles on the aircraft to go around.  Yes, the F-22s and a few F-15s shoot down 200 Chinese aircraft per sortie, but they are then destroyed on the ground when the land to refuel and rearm.  The People’s Liberation Army Air Force is gutted, but so is the USAF/USN.  One way to solve this problem is to hang more missiles on more aircraft. Boeing comes to the rescue with a plan for F-15s armed with 16 AMRAAMs.  Probably there will be no money for this, though:




1. Mrs. Maureen Avila - September 28, 2015

All of this is way over my head.

Tantumblogo - September 28, 2015

It would have taken another 2000 words to make it clear to the uninitiated. It was too long as is. Just a sort of for the record post for my own sanity.

2. Don - September 28, 2015

One of your best.

I still hope that the next POTUS will come to our senses and cut, cut, cut the F-35 and go with what we need. There is still hope in spite of this mess.

Tantumblogo - September 28, 2015

And I should say you sound pretty knowledgeable!

3. Anonymous - September 28, 2015

Ditto. I’m not nearly as knowledgeable as Tantum on this, but I agree this is crazy.

Question for Tantum: Are the stealth capabilities of the F-22 really awesome enough to make a huge difference over the 4.5-generation air superiority aircraft with modern missile technology? That is, do the F-22s stealth features protect sufficiently against airborne radar to give it an advantage in an air-to-air battle? Also, is the maneuverability of the F-22 really all that valuable in a modern air-to-air battle? Surely, it’s high-speed maneuverability is limited similarly to any other 4th generation fighter–by human limitations–and low-speed maneuverability would be, at best, a last-ditch effort to survive a close-quarters 1-on-1, right?

So, would it be accurate to say that modern air-to-air combat is more dependent upon missile and radar technology than maneuverability?

Also, can someone with photoshop expertise please add about 20 missiles to that last photo?…Just wherever there’s gray paint I would like to see that F-15 totally covered in AMRAAMs. That is all.

Tantumblogo - September 28, 2015

Low observables and how they work are very complicated. For instance, the F-22 does not have all-aspect stealth like the B-2. It has very low observables from frontal and side aspect, not so much from the rear.

Stealth is designed to work in a whole package of assets and capabilities. It works with ELINT, SIGINT, decoys, UAVs, feints, tactics, etc. For instance, on the first night of the Gulf War the stealth fighters didn’t approach Iraqi airspace until the main air defense radars facing Saudi had been knocked out. They had tons of jamming support. They had F-4Gs and EA-6Bs all over the place.

What the US likes to do is a highly scripted set piece air campaign, where they have the initiative and can maximize all our advantages. That makes sense, but you can’t always do that. There are of course all manner of plans for many contingencies, including the other guy having the initiative, of course.

Putting it more simply – where the F-22 has stealth, absolutely, it makes an enormous difference. Mechanically scanned radars don’t have a chance against it. You may read about low-frequency radars “tracking” stealth aircraft at long range, but they really don’t “track” them, they show something is out there, sort of in this vague area. Coupled with F-22 supercruise, that information is blatantly insufficient to actually target a weapon system at the F-22. However, with more and more AESA radars coming online, and with massive computing power getting ever cheaper, it does seem that in 10-20 years stealth may not be as big an advantage as it is now. It may be possible, some say, to track a stealth aircraft by using large numbers of radars looking from various angles, combining all those fleeting returns, and using computers to combine that into a sight picture. That might involve airborne and ground based sensors. Some also say that it may even be possible to track a stealth aircraft by the disturbance of the air molecules around it. Sounds sketchy but who knows.

To me the biggest advantage the F-22 has is supercruise – it’s a game changer to increase cruise speed from 0.85M to 1.6M. It vastly complicates targeting, reduces the threat circles of SAM sites greatly, etc. It almost doubles the range of the AMRAAMs carried, to be launched at 1.6M and 50,000 ft compared to 0.9M and 30,000 ft. There are a lot of surprising things that can flow out from that one characteristic. Note, a lot of planes can supercruise now, but only F-22 can go way over 1.5M. Most supercruise at more like 1.1 M, and that is only when clean. Hanging stores on an aircraft just obliterates their “book” performance. So another big advantage is internal stores carriage. Of course, none of this is cheap.

Close in, there are aircraft that are equal or better than F-22. Typhoon is probably close. Su-30MK with TVC would be a handful, I’m sure. But they lack the total package. Typhoon with the new CAPTOR radar and more powerful engines would be the world’s nearest competitor, in terms of flight performance/threat posed.

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