The Iranian military must be enjoying the latest spectacle of Pentagon waste and bungling.
Only a few weeks ago, the US attempted to ramp up the pressure on Iran by deploying to the Persian Gulf at the Al Dhafra Air Base in the United Arab Emirates, just across the gulf from Iran, a squadron of the Air Force’s spanking new and never battle-tested supersonic F-22 stealth fighter-bombers.
Stealth technology would be a key to any US attack on Iran because a central tenet of US imperial war strategy is that US losses have to be kept to a very low number so that the American public will continue shopping and watching American Idol and ignoring the endless wars. Since the Iranians, over the years, have been supplied with sophisticated Russian and Chinese radars and anti-aircraft missiles, a conventional attack could lead to heavy and politically dangerous losses.
The problem is that those F-22 Raptors are duds. They may fly fast, and may even be hard to spot on radar (though that claim has been debunked by many experts), but they have a fatal defect in their life-support system. Pilots who fly them have been having their oxygen supply cut off with disturbing regularity, leading to deaths, crashes and to forced landings by pilots who realized they were getting dopey or losing consciousness.
According to a number of news reports, pilots have been refusing to fly these new airborne coffins. That’s a pretty big deal. Remember, we’re talking about members of the military saying no to superior officers who have ordered them to climb into a
cockpit. I would call that a kind of strike, functionally speaking.
Now, if the US were to launch an attack on Iran, refusing to fly would be a more serious matter of course, and so probably few of the pilots in the doomed squadron at Al Dhafra would likely risk court martial by refusing to take off, but this raises the possibility that we could have sophisticated, heavily armed $421-million planes dropping out of the skies all over Iran as they try to reach their assigned targets.
Not a pretty picture for Americans back home, but surely entertaining for Iranians watching from their porches or on their TVs.
According to an AP report, War Secretary Leon Panetta has finally acknowledged the F-22’s problems, though two investigations over the past year have failed to find a cause or a fix, and in an “unusual move” for a Secretary has placed flight restrictions on the plane. Under Panetta’s order, the F-22s need to stay close to their base, so they can be landed in a hurry if the pilot senses problems with his air supply. That could definitely make conducting a run of several hundred miles to some Iranian target area a challenge.
Of course, maybe the shifting of that squadron of flawed planes to the Persian Gulf was really just a bluff anyway. Why on earth would President Obama and his generals and his war secretary want to kick off a war using a bunch of untested weapons with a known history for killing their pilots and falling out of the sky on routine training missions?
Maybe that “combat” deployment all has more to do with winning votes from the workers at Lockheed Martin locations (makers of this flying white elephant) than with scaring the Iranians.
Dave Lindorff is a founder of This Can’t Be Happening and a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, published by AK Press. Hopeless is also available in a Kindle edition. He lives in Philadelphia.