The F-22 “Leatherneck”?

I’ve watched Lockheed Martin propose a few memorably far-out ideas: for example, a carrier-based C-130 Sea Herk or slingloading a cage under an unmanned helicopter to transport detainees. Neither idea moved much beyond a PowerPoint slide (er, thankfully?).

But I’ve read one new idea this morning that could top them all: selling F-22s to the US Marine Corps.

Unlike my previous examples, this idea did not come from Lockheed’s business development department.

It comes from Air Power Australia — that hotbed of pro-F-22/anti-F-35 advocacy. I know the source will immediately disqualify the concept for some. But I think it’s worth reading, at least for its novelty value. I’m sure the USMC wouldn’t mind getting their hands on a few F-22s, as long as they didn’t have to pay for them or give up their beloved F-35B.

Check out the commentary published on defpro, but or click on the jump below.

OpEd: F-22A Raptors for the Marine Corps 

07:26 GMT, February 9, 2009The USMC has a proud, 233 year history of unexcelled service to theircountry. Projecting US power from US Navy ships, they are the first toengage the enemy, often in deadly fights where weakness brings rapiddeath and high casualty rates. In amphibious assaults, they take andhold territory to provide safe bases for US and Coalition operations.If the President wants something difficult done, he asks the Marines.

In the very near future, the Marine’s military dominance could come toa crashing, jarring halt. Their equipment is obsolete, overmatched andout of life.

In their next embarked transit to a battlefield, they could beferociously attacked with modern weapons of war. The nightmare for theUSN is to have a swarm of supersonic anti-ship missiles target theCarrier Battle Group. The formula for missile saturation swarm attackis simple – count the number of Aegis class DDGs, multiply by four,then add a few for good measure. Launch the missiles so they overwhelmthe defences. Attack aircraft could be Sukhoi Flankers with one to foursupersonic missiles apiece, the modified H-6K Badger that can carry upto six missiles with an un-refuelled radius over 2,000+ nautical miles,or the Tu-95M/142 Bear with multiple wing and fuselage hard-points anda combat radius of almost 4,000 nautical miles. K Supersonic weaponsinclude the Kh-41 BrahMos / Yakhont ‘Stallion’, the Kh-41 ‘Sunburn’ andthe 3M54 ‘Sizzler’.

If the Marines are lucky, and reach the assault point, more bad thingswill await them. The future enemy Integrated Air Defence System (IADS)is a symbiotic coupling of air combat fighters (ACFs) andSurface-to-Air Missiles (SAMs), with active and passive multi-spectralsensors that guide the air and ground intercepts of incoming fightersand cruise missiles. The SAMs protect the ACFs bases, and the ACFsprotect the SAMs.

If the USMC attempts to assault a shore without air dominance, theenemy can attack the Marines and the USN unhindered. A Sukhoi Flankercan carry up to three KAB-1500 guided bombs. If the fill isthermobaric, and the bombs GPS or EO guided and air-fused, then asingle Sukhoi can annihilate a battalion of Marines in the toughtransit from ship-to-shore. These same weapons create such anover-pressure, they will break the back of many ships.

The Marines are often given a raw deal with their equipment. They areassigned the toughest jobs, but are given hand-me-down, tired andineffective war-craft. While their courage and aggression may havecompensated for second-rate equipment in the past, this is not a safepolicy to extrapolate into the future.

In modern warfare, the old F/A-18A/C/D Hornets have little capabilityagainst new Sukhois and SAMs. The ‘Super Hornet’ is already obsolete.The much delayed, untested, battlefield interdictor Joint StrikeFighter was never designed to impose air dominance against modern ACFs,nor will it penetrate a modern IADS with SAMs that can detect and fireon the radar returns from pigeons when the radar reflections of theJoint Strike Fighter will be more of the size of a goose. Courage inthe face of a technologically superior enemy unjustly results in thedeath of many fine warriors.

So, if the USMC is going to spearhead future US military operations, why not give them the sharpest spear?

No change of role is required – intercept and destroy enemy aircraft,and support the amphibious force. Let the Marines develop their owntactics, but here are some suggestions.

Their first task is to get the USN Battle Task Group safely to theamphibious assault point. With careful routing, by flying top cover,the Raptors can find and destroy missile carrying aircraft before theyreach an anti-ship missile launch point. Supersonic anti-ship missilesare fearsome weapons, but they consume prodigious amounts of fuel inthe process. So while their ‘below radar horizon range’ is longer thanship’s radar and missile systems, it is still quite close to the battlegroup – typically 100-200 nautical miles. The Raptors need to’sanitize’ this launch doughnut, killing the launch aircraft beforerelease, preferably enroute to their attack and well away from theCSG/CVBG. In the fog of war, some ‘leakers’ always get though, but ifthe number is much reduced, then the Aegis DDGs can cope with theattack.

At the amphibious assault point, USMC air power must ‘kick down thedoor’ for their assaulting ground forces. They must cut the symbioticlink between the ACFs and the SAMs. They do this by engaging the ACFsfirst. If the enemy fighters show, they are destroyed. If they don’tshow, then the Raptors move onto the SAMs, killing them in aDestruction of Enemy Air Defences (DEAD) operation with close-in SmallDiameter Bomb attacks before the SAMs can ‘shoot-and-scoot’.

Now, the argument against this new capability for the USMC, is that itis ‘land-based’, and couldn’t possibly give the USMC 24/7 air dominancecoverage when and where it needs it. This argument needs to be testedin the crucible of detailed operations research. The Marines have beenoperating successfully from shore basing for many decades, so theargument that the Marines must operate off carriers only isideological, and specious.

What we already know is that the F-22A has superior range/payloadperformance to the STOVL F-35B Joint Strike Fighter in all regimes, andbetter short field performance than both the STOVL F-35B and CTOL F-35AJoint Strike Fighter variants when both are flown as conventionalfighters off runways. This is a key performance criterion, as there aremany 4-5,000 ft airstrips the F-22A can use with undiminished range andpayload, which the F-35 cannot. The F-22A has an identical internalpayload of JDAMs or SDBs as the STOVL F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, butdoes so with twice as many air to air missiles onboard.

Where does the USN need to get to, how will it get there, and can it beprotected by the USMC Raptor fleet along the way? Can some innovative’gap-filling’ solutions be found? For example, would it be possible torefuel a patrolling Raptor from a carrier based aircraft, perhaps arejuvenated KS-3 Viking ‘mini-tanker’?

Could the USMC afford to buy the F-22A? Well, yes, in fact. Financialprovision has been made for purchase of the Joint Strike Fighter – theWorld’s most costly combat aircraft. Look at the USMC Headquarters pageon its Aviation Plan ‘Brainbook 2008′ Aviation Ref Guide (Brainbook) -May 2008, Page 22 (

Over the 08-13 FYDP, acquisition of 91 Joint Strike Fighter’s areplanned for a Weapon System Unit Cost of $14,412.3M. Forgetting thecomplexities of ‘X-Year’ dollars, this makes the average acquisitioncost of a Joint Strike Fighter of $158.4M. The F-22A’s Unit ProcurementCost is currently around $140M, therefore there are quite significantsavings to be had, moreso, as a fair chunk of the Joint Strike Fighter$3,957.1M RDT&E could be saved, as this work has been whollycompleted for the F-22A Raptor. These savings do not account for thegreater cost/benefit i.e. “bang for buck” provided by the F-22A vsF-35B. The Marines could invest some of these funds in the latestsea-lift Patriot batteries, to provide essential IADS coverage of theirForward Operating Bases.

Conversely, can the USN and the embarked USMC afford NOT to haveRaptors to impose air dominance around its Task Groups? Massed,saturation supersonic missile attacks raise the spectre of ship andpersonnel losses of the scale experienced at Pearl Harbour orGuadalcanal – only this time in blue water where the causalities wouldbe higher. A USMC fleet of Raptors protecting the USN fleet duringcombat operations seems to be very inexpensive insurance for the comingyears.

The USAF should rejoice at the prospect of the USMC being armed withthe F-22A Raptor. The 96 aircraft would add 50% to the existing plannedfleet of 183. If a desperate situation arises as described in the muchquoted RAND Study (see below), then the Marines can fight side-by-sidewith the USAF. They could become the linchpin, bringing the mightycombat power of the USN, USMC and the USAF together to fight and winwhenever and wherever needed.

The Department of the Navy (DoN) and the Pentagon should be happy sincesuch a plan provides an additional avenue for return on the investmentso far made in the Joint Strike Fighter Program particularly in thesystems areas with their inbuilt and advanced interoperability,supportability and sustainability enabling simple porting across to theF-22A.

The new President and his Administration should be pleased with thisadvancing on return of investment with the overall plan generating farmore jobs for Americans over the next five years than the Joint StrikeFighter Program could ever achieve over the same period for the sameprice. The additional bonus being achieving far greater capability inshorter time at far lower risk than the Joint Strike Fighter Programoffers.

Even if the F-35B STOVL Joint Strike Fighter survives the fundamentaldesign problems, which have bedevilled it since its conception, theMarines still end up with an aircraft which lacks the firepower,performance and survivability to do the job required.

A deep rethink of the future of Marine Corps fighter aviation isneeded, and it is needed now. The United States Marine Corps deservesno less.




WgCdr Chris Mills, RAAF (Retd), Air Power Australia – Australia’s Independent Defence Think Tank

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14 Responses to The F-22 “Leatherneck”?

  1. solomon 9 February, 2009 at 10:37 pm #

    The operative portion of the narrative was…

    “The USAF should rejoice at the prospect of the USMC being armed with the F-22A Raptor”

    They surely would. In every major engagement since Vietnam, the Air Force has fought for and gained unassailable rights to assignments of missions for “fast movers”. Part of the reason for the all STOVL force is to ensure that Marine Corps Commanders have their close air support in pocket, not serving at the behest of a notional headquarters staff that is maintaining air tasking. The biggest travesty to befall the USMC is to design Expeditionary Forces and then upon arrival in theater watch those forces become sectioned away to other tasks. Combat efficiency is immediately lost and the ability to project the full combat power of the assigned Marine Corps unit is lost. From the MEU up to a Reinforced MEF, these units are designed with an aviation element. This plan would see that sectioned off. This plan is a non-starter and a backdoor attempt to dismantle the Marine Corps Aviation Neck-down Strategy.

  2. Dave 10 February, 2009 at 1:43 am #

    You can really tell this guy is foreign and doesn’t know how our military works. It’d be a cold day in hell- or if you prefer, when pigs fly- before the Marine Corps. would go for this, not to mention the Navy and DoN.

    APA should stick to commenting on their own domestic issues instead of “recomending” to us what we should do with our forces.

  3. solomon 10 February, 2009 at 4:16 am #


    you’re absolutely right! i didn’t realize it until i read your post but i’m sure he wargamed his scenario on the Falklands War with the USMC and Navy playing the role of the British and the Argentinians being armed with Flankers and such….


    is there anyway for you to get more info on which he’s based his scenario? they won’t return my e-mails and i’m wondering how right i am in my speculation regarding the Falklands Scenario.

  4. Quango72 10 February, 2009 at 5:50 am #

    Stephen, it is difficult not to be pro-F22, and in Air Power Australia’s defence they are not anti-F35. They ARE anti-F35 only in an Australian context and have good reasoning for this. In a world context, they believe the F-35 is being oversold as an air superiority machine, will be too costly, and too delayed – which to me seems to be true. Please try to be more impartial, as that is one of the things I respect about your blog.

    Quote below from

    “The Joint Strike Fighter shows every prospect of being exceptionally well suited to its primary design roles of battlefield strike and close air support of ground troops, but it is not designed to perform air superiority roles, unlike the larger F-22A, and is not well adapted to performing the long range strike role now filled by the F-111″ [in Australia].

    Without air superiority, can the Marines force an opposed landing without significant casualties? Can the F-35B provide that for them against the proliferation of high-performance air defence systems and aircraft? If so, will it do this cost-effectively? Can anyone really answer these questions with any certainty given where the F-35 program is at this point in time?

  5. Stephen Trimble 10 February, 2009 at 11:14 am #

    I see what you mean. I’ll be more careful in characterizing APA’s position on F-35.

  6. solomon 10 February, 2009 at 10:55 pm #


    despite your assertion that APA is not anti-F-35, this very article points to a much different conclusion. the USMC has decided on their next generation multi-role fighter. APA has decided that it does not fit their needs and is arrogant enough to advocate for a different aircraft. If it were only the case of the F-35 not being a good fit for Australia, that would be one thing, but for them to wander into this territory is telling. APA sees the F-35 as a threat to the F-22 …many supporters of the F-22 have the same opinion (this view appears to be held inside the USAF which is the lead agency on the F-35) so please, give us more than a lukewarm statement of support concerning what they believe are the planes abilities to quantify your belief that they (APA) aren’t in the “anti F-35″ camp.

  7. Quango72 11 February, 2009 at 12:24 am #


    Even if the USMC has made their decision re F35B, it is still valuable to have a robust debate and for people to voice alternative opinions. This is not arrogance. If you were a Marine, would you prefer to have Raptors overhead whenever and wherever possible, until F35s could operate more safely in their design roles?

    I concede your point re F35 being a threat to F22 production, and the fact that this often creates bias. This also works the opposite way, with the F22 being a threat to the F35 (hence there is also a pro-F35, anti-F22 camp). Unfortunately bias often results in no-one listening to anyone else.

    Here are my non-lukewarm comments:
    F35 will be good at what it was originally designed to do, but will cost and weigh more than it should. F35 is not right for Australia unless purchased in smaller numbers along with sufficient F22s (if available) to complement F35 numbers. If F35 price ends up being close to or more expensive than F22 (it could happen!), Australia should solely purchase the F22. Reality: Aust Govt unlikely to restart the F22 export clearance process, but even if successful, F22 production may well have ended by that time.
    USAF should buy more F22s for their own purposes and to provide air dominance for USMC (and USN) operations when/if required. Marines should keep their F35Bs which can then be operated with and/or after the F22s – depending on the threat environment. Not convinced of the value of the F35C for USN, as it may be better to use F18E/F and wait for unmanned aircraft to mature.

    PS: If you are the Solomon from the Ares blogs, although I don’t always agree with you, I enjoy your jousting with Bill Sweetman. Robust and spirited debate is a good thing.

  8. Dave 11 February, 2009 at 12:30 am #

    Bottom line here is that nobody at the DOD gives a rat’s ass what the APA has to say. Frankly, I really don’t care for foreigners sticking their noses in our (US) affairs.

  9. solomon 11 February, 2009 at 3:39 am #


    i am a Marine (former), i am the Solomon from Ares and you’re right a robust debate is always a good thing. let me clarify my statement regarding “arrogance”. it wasn’t in reference to anything anyone has ever said on a website. it was in this case directed toward APA and my belief that they have a bias toward the F-22. accordingly, in their zeal to gain F-22′s for Australia, they have begun lambasting every other aircraft in sight. they have declared the F/A-18E-F obsolete, the F-35 inconsequential, the Typhoon a relic from the past and the Gripen NG totally irrelevant in the anything except peacekeeping missions. the thought that they would put out a recommendation regarding Marine Corps procurement was in my opinion a bridge too far. but i digress- we agree on more than we disagree and if nothing else this has proven to be quite entertaining. i look forward to the next crossing of swords with you! …;)

  10. Quango72 11 February, 2009 at 10:18 am #

    Interesting that I asked you a question starting “If you were a Marine…” – and apparently you are (were). That was the question you artfully dodged by the way… :-)
    Thanks for interacting. I read a lot and comment rarely. Not much point commenting if no-one is listening.
    Apologies for the partial hijack Stephen.

  11. VNC communication counsel 13 February, 2009 at 7:00 pm #

    Solomon, Quango72, others:

    Amsterdam, NL, very interested in Australian point of view. AFAIK, APA want a long-range multi-purpose fighter first –is not all that interested in A-aircraft, Given their geography, I can see their point.
    But the two aircraft discussed were designed in tandem, to operate in complementary roles, right? So it all may be in the mix, for AU as well as for NL.
    Now, I know things have changed a lot since then, that final F-35 might be much more capable than it was designed to be. Even so, here in NL some feel that the F-35 without (something like a) F-22 might not be a safe bet. NL is co-developing the F-35 and the RNLAF wants the F-35 and nothing else; more agile interceptors would have to come from ‘abroad.’ Only F-35s feels like great limitation on NL’s capabilities.
    Right? Or overlooking important facts and projections?
    Most importantly: If you can’t or won’t mix the 2, what would be next best candidate?
    Very interested in feedback and not afraid of robust debate,


  12. VNC communication counsel 14 February, 2009 at 6:20 pm #

    On the aims of APA, an interesting explanation here:

    Your truly,

  13. solomon 15 February, 2009 at 11:30 am #

    in my opinion, the F-35 will more than meet the needs of your country. this airplane will have the most robust spiral development plan of any aircraft current or projected, has a sensor suite so advanced that its being back loaded onto the F-22 to make that plane more effective and any person that is pushing the F-22 continues to fail to make the case of what would an export model look like. if you must have a fighter in the traditional sense then go with a custom built F-16 modded to the gills but be advised, it about 5 years you’ll wish you were on the F-35 bandwagon.

  14. solomon 16 February, 2009 at 12:43 am #


    you’re sneaky young man…i followed your link and that is the best explanation of the F-35′s attributes that i have EVER seen!!!

    it was well written, covered every object of the debate and was done in a way as to not be demeaning to Dr. Koop and his associates. I AM IMPRESSED. too many times others (myself included) have allowed this “debate” to take on almost personal tones. this was refreshing!

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