Congress is busying itself trying to overturn Secretary of Defense Robert Gates’s decision to stop producing the F-22 fighter. But President Barack Obama has threatened to veto a spending bill for the entire Defense Department if it contains a single F-22 over the 187 now authorized.
Gates has said that, without a doubt, Obama should veto a bill that includes additional F-22s. The fact that there are doubts demonstrates the mess our defenses are in.
The House committee wants to make a down payment on 12 more F-22s in 2011; the Senate committee wants seven more in 2010.
The House passed its version of the bill on June 25 by a vote of 389-22. So Obama and Gates have a long way to go to show that they have the 145 or so votes they would need to sustain a veto.
Gates and Obama’s case against the F-22 is reasonable but needs to be more comprehensive.
Gates has argued that not a single F-22 has flown in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But there simply are no enemy air forces there.
Also, the F-22 is outrageously expensive. The 187 now authorized are costing the nation more than $65 billion, almost $350 million for each one.
More important, but so far unaddressed, is whether the F-22 is even a good fighter. Actually, it is a gigantic disappointment.
Its boosters advertise the F-22 as a technological wonder – which it isn’t.
Its “stealth” characteristic is greatly exaggerated. And, while the F-22 is less detectable by some radar at certain angles, it is easily detectable to many types of radar in the world, including early Russian and Chinese models. Just ask the pilots of the two stealthy F-117 bombers that were put out of action by Serbs in the 1999 Kosovo air war using antiquated radar systems.
Worse, the F-22 depends on its radar and long-range, radar-guided missiles. Such “beyond visual range” radar-based air warfare has failed time and time again in war.
There are two problems. First, even the low probability of intercept radar in the F-22 is vulnerable to detection by enemies, especially with the proliferation of spread-spectrum technology in cell phones and laptops. The radar not only signals the F-22’s presence to enemies but also acts as a beacon for their radar-homing missiles. While both the Russians and the Chinese specialize in such missiles, our Air Force, in its exercises, insists that such capabilities do not exist.
Second, its aerodynamic performance, short-range missiles and guns are nothing special, which I observed at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada when an F-16 “shot down” an F-22 in exercises.
A vote in Congress for more F-22s is a vote to decay our pilots’ skills, shrink our Air Force at increasing cost and reward Congress’s lust for pork. Congress’s new defense bill should, indeed, be vetoed if a single F-22 is added. Pro-defense members of Congress will support that move.
WINSLOW T. WHEELER spent 31 years working on Capitol Hill with senators from both political parties and the Government Accountability Office, specializing in national security affairs. Currently, he directs the Straus Military Reform Project of the Center for Defense Information in Washington. He is author of The Wastrels of Defense and the editor of a new anthology: ‘America’s Defense Meltdown: Pentagon Reform for President Obama and the New Congress’.