It's been a contentious week in the US fifth-generation fighter business, with the Department of Defense and US Air Force taking diametrically opposed positions on whether more F-22s are needed. The DoD has made clear it thinks 183 F-22s are enough (plus another 4 in the FY09 war supplemental). The USAF is adamant it needs 381, and can find a way to pay for them.
Steve Trimble over on The DEW Line calculates, at $150 million a copy, it will cost the USAF almost $30 billion to buy the Raptors it wants. That money will have to come from other programmes - and the DoD's fear is it will come from the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, which is intended not only for the Air Force, but also the Navy and Marine Corps (not to mention lots of US allies!).
Raptor - endangered species?
It emerged during the week that the DoD sees the F-35, and not the F-22, as the likely replacement for any F-15s that have to be retired because of structural problems. Quite a turn-around given the F-22 was designed to replace the "high" F-15 and the F-35 the 'low" F-16. The USAF disagrees, of course, but the argument casts the DoD's opinion of the JSF's capability in an interesting light.
Here are some of the competing statements made over the past week:
Feb 12 - deputy defence secretary Gordon England tells the Senate budget committee:
"I do not believe the F-22s will be replacements for the F-15. The F-22's a much more expensive, higher-end airplane -- fifth generation. So I would expect that instead, we would try to accelerate the Joint Strike Fighter, which is more the class of the F-15, so that the Air Force would move into Joint Strike Fighter and not into the much more expensive F-22."
Feb 13 - England tells the House defence subcommittee:
"My strong feeling is that we have enough F-22s. They're designed for a specific mission, we have enough for that mission and we need to go on with the Joint Strike Fighter programme, which is the next fifth-generation airplane."
"The Joint Strike Fighter performance and the F-22 performance is extraordinarily close. The F-22, of course, was designed many years ago. It goes back to the 80s...Joint Strike Fighter is a much newer airplane, so it also has very similar, if not in some cases better, performance with other attributes."
"I'll make a very blunt statement here...in the case of the Air Force we have an aging fighter fleet. But, on the other hand, they've spend $65 billion, and we have 183 F-22s. So, at some point, we have to decide not to buy the very costly, high-end airplane, and buy the quantity."
Feb 13 - Maj Gen Jeffrey Reimer, F-22 programme manager tells an AvWeek conference:
"They are not interchangeable...the F-22 has unique attributes that make it dominate in the air-to-air role and the Joint Strike Fighter...has unique attributes that allow its avionics and its weapon carriage to persist in the air-to-ground arena." (From Inside the Air Force)
Feb 13 - Air Force secretary Michael Wynne tells the same conference:
"The secretary is really worried about the F-22 squeezing out the F-35. We don't see it that way because in the near term...I'm contrained in the number of F-35s I can buy."
"We believe we need to make our case, and if we make our case [for more F-22s] right, then we should be able to live with it."
Feb 13 - Air Force Material Command chief Gen Bruce Carlson at the same conference:
"We think that 183 is the wrong number. We're commited to funding 380. We're building a programme right now to do that. It's going to be hard; it's going to be incredibly difficult on the Air Force, but we've this before." (From Aerospace Daily)