Your country’s greatest threat to its half-century dominance of the air is the pending gap in Air Force strike fighters. The Senate has voted to kill the F-22, citing costs and a savings of $1.75 billion. After the vote, we now learn that the inferior F-35 is years behind schedule. In retiring 250 F-15s due to structural wear and tear, Defense Secretary Gates has put the U.S. for the first time below the 2,250 fighters required to defend the country. Air Guard Lt. Gen. Harry Wyatt told Congress, “Every day without a solution, this situation becomes more and more urgent.” By governing based on assumptions of the F-35’s production readiness and an exaggeration of its actual capabilities, Obama has risked the peace of mind we enjoy thanks to air supremacy.
My views on the importance of the F-22 and air supremacy were published in The Newport Daily News and The Boston Globe. Myths continue on the subject. Here are the facts so you can vote with confidence.
Myth #1: The F-22 has never flown combat missions over Iraq or Afghanistan since its operational debut in 2004, whereas the Reaper combat drones ($8 million each) are in action around the clock.
The F-22 was not used in Afghanistan or Iraq because it was not available until December 2005. Air dominance had already been achieved in the Southwest Asian theater of conflict. In response to 9/11, the Taliban in Afghanistan were overthrown three months after the World Trade Center Towers fell. The U.S. invasion of Iraq in March 2003 was accomplished in three weeks. Air dominance was possible due to the absence of air-to-air or surface-to-air threats. In these two theaters, stealthy air dominance assets were not imperative. Fourth-generation fighters, such as the twin-engine F-15 and single-engine workhorse F-16 were effective against a lesser adversary. The F-22 has fortunately not been needed for combat. In fact, had we been pulled into the Russian-Georgian conflict a year ago, the only capable first-strike aircraft in the U.S. fleet would have been the F-22. Remember, the F-15 was not used until 15 years after it became operational.
To our country’s detriment, while Washington guts the defense budget, Tehran and Pyongyang continue to plow ahead with their offensive efforts. Their ballistic missile programs have raced ahead even faster than we have anticipated. Both nations boast robust arsenals, and they will not think twice about using them jointly against the U.S. There are currently 35 countries with ballistic missiles, and nine with nuclear capabilities-not including Iran or the anti-American Islamist groups seeking to obtain their own missiles.
Unlike fighter jets or cruise missiles, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) or drones, such as the Predator C Avenger, MQ-9 Reaper, and MZ-8B Fire Scout, can loiter over their targets for more than 20 hours, take photos in which men, women, and children can be clearly distinguished, and deliver laser-guided munitions with low explosive yields. However, they do not have the ballistic missile evading ability of an F-22. They are not a first-strike option. They require cleared air space to operate effectively.
Once the air is clear, UAVs are highly effective in surgical strikes. Obama has backed these strikes, which amounted to more than 30 in 2008. According to The WSJ, “‘High-value targets’ killed in these new strikes were al Qaeda spokesman Abu Layth al-Libi, weapons expert Abu Sulayman al Jazairi, chemical and biological expert Abu Khabab al-Masri, commander and logistician Abu Wafa al-Saudi, al Qaeda ‘Emir’ Abu al-Hasan al Rimi, and, in November, Rashid Rauf.”
Myth #2: The F-22 requires 30 hours of maintenance for each hour of flight time.
The F-22, as F-16.Net states, “is required to achieve 12.0 direct maintenance man-hours per flight hour (DMMH/FH) at system maturity, which is defined to be when the F-22 fleet accumulates 100,000 flight hours.” It achieved 18.1 DMMH/FH in 2008 and improved to the better-than-required 10.5 DMMH/FH in 2009, well before system maturity, which is slated for late 2010.
Myth #3: The deterrence role of the F-16 is not mentioned.
The F-16 is not a deterrent; it’s an open invitation to enemy attack. The F-15 and F-16 have been the backbone of the Air Force’s fighter fleet for the past 30 years. They are fourth-generation legacy fighters, overextended and with increasing structural failures. Three hundred of these aged fighters were grounded after an F-15 “broke in half” during a November 2007 training mission in St. Louis, Missouri.
Myth #4: The role of police and intelligence work in keeping us safe by deterring domestic and international terrorist groups is not mentioned.
Do not mix air supremacy with terrorism. They are both essential battles, but they are separate. Do not believe for one minute that terrorists are uneducated mountain men, found in the hills of Afghanistan. Many are college educated, and some have studied at the world’s most elite colleges. These men and women operate in a highly effective covert manner. Of the 79 known terrorists responsible for the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, 9/11, and the embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania, 54% percent attended college. In fact, it may surprise you that according to [Patrick Buchanan’s, Day of Reckoning], the rate of college attendance is lower among Americans generally than among this group of terrorists.
There’s no question our intelligence community needs the freedom to fight the sophisticated covert actions of terrorists. I would like Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to rely heavily on the direction and guidance of Assistant Defense Secretary Michael Vickers and New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly.
Myth #5: Additional funding for the F-22 program will require reductions in higher-priority areas of military spending.
Air supremacy and missile defense should be top-priority areas of military spending. The UAF requirement called for 381 F-22s. It takes 100 planes to field a wing of 72 operational aircraft. The 187 current F-22s really yield only about 125 combat-coded planes, or one-third the number requested.
Myth #6: There is no adversary that will need to be deterred by the F-22 between now and when the more advanced F-35 Joint Strike Fighter becomes operational.
The single-engine F-35 is not more advanced than its big brother, the twin-engine F-22. The F-22 can conduct long-range strikes to penetrate the most sophisticated enemy air defenses. The F-35 cannot, and it requires a sufficient number of F-22s to clear the skies before it can operate unencumbered. The F-35 is dependent on the F-22.
You have to wonder if Obama and Gates knew how far away the F-35 is from production. It strikes me as no coincidence that knowledge of the F-35 production delays became public after the Senate voted to kill the F-22 program, wiping out $1.75 billion from the defense budget. Don’t tell me this is about saving money. Please. Compared to the $10 trillion in Obama administration spending, it amounts to less than pennies in savings. If the Obama administration has spent $1, the savings from cutting the F-22 program is $0.000175, or not quite two tenths of a cent!
The F-22 and F-35 together account for the workload of approximately 75% of suppliers who have specialized in fifth-generation platforms. According to the Government Accountability Office analysis of the Department of Defense data, the F-35 will not move out of the development phase and into full production until 2014 or later. A fleet with fewer than the required number of F-22s will need to help fill this gap when the less advanced F-35 is fully operational. It’s not known which production facilities will close, but up to 90,000 jobs could be lost. If Obama is about saving jobs, isn’t building a plane a job just like building a car is a job? If the required planes were built without interruption, instead of by Congress’s current stop-and-start approach, more efficiency and economies of scale would be met. The research and development costs per unit would decline. This certainly feels to me like a shift towards the more socialistic agenda of the Obama administration, and not an issue about money.
E.J. Smith is Managing Director of Richard C. Young & Co., Ltd. an investment advisory firm managing portfolios for investors with over $1,000,000 in investable assets.