Sanity Injection

Injecting a dose of sanity into your day’s news and current events.

Memo to President Obama: No more F-22 Raptors

Posted by sanityinjection on February 11, 2009

Another excellent explanation from Gregg Easterbrook, this time on why the Obama Administration must resist pressure from the Pentagon to buy more F-22 Raptor fighters:

In Washington, D.C., news-radio adverts are touting the incredible prowess of the Air Force’s new F-22 Raptor. So are these ads supposed to make you want to rush out and purchase a supersonic fighter plane? “Hey kids, let’s head over to Lockheed Martin and buy an F-22!” What’s happening is that as the new president draws up his first defense budget proposal, Obama is under tremendous pressure to prove he is a tough guy via a defense spending increase — which seems the last thing the country needs with the defense budget already historically high and debt being a greater danger to the republic than any foreign government.


F-22 Raptor

AP Photo/Courtney Witt

The F-22 looks great, performs great — and was designed for conditions that no longer exist.

Air Force top brass desperately want to buy more F-22 fighter planes; Defense Secretary Robert Gates, a George W. Bush appointee who is staying on in the Obama administration, wants to end F-22 production. The Raptor is the best fighter any nation has ever built, but it was designed for a mission that no longer exists — Cold War air superiority against top Soviet interceptors. Someday, an unexpected need for the Raptor might happen, considering that actual use of military hardware often differs from planned use. But although the aircraft has been operational for three years, the Raptor has never been deployed in Iraq or Afghanistan, suggesting F-22s lack utility in the low-intensity conflicts expected to characterize future warfare. At any rate, the Air Force already has 180 F-22s. That seems plenty, considering no other nation is even attempting to build a fighter matching the Raptor’s characteristics. Gates wants to stop production because the F-22 is very expensive and, as a nearly 20-year-old design, is in some ways already obsolete compared with the upcoming F-35 fighter, which costs less.

But Air Force flyboy types love the F-22 because it looks seriously zoomy and is the sole fighter ever built that can sustain supersonic speed for long periods. Members of Congress from districts where the plane’s components are built love the very fact that the airplane is so costly, about $150 million per additional copy — if only it cost a lot more! Last June, Gates fired the Air Force chief of staff and Air Force secretary, an unprecedented disciplinary act for a Republican defense secretary, because Air Force top brass acted more interested in obtaining F-22s for service prestige than in supplying drones to assist U.S. forces fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. But Air Force leadership is not excited by drones. If anything, Air Force leadership is worried that drone aircraft will soon put flyboys out of business. (Look up the X-47 in Wikipedia; not only is it pilot-less but it’s a Navy idea.) The blue-suit F-22 faction is staging a whispering campaign on Capitol Hill that Obama will be seen as weak unless he buys more superexpensive Cold War fighters. George W. Bush wasted huge amounts on the defense budget; Obama must prove he’s tough by wasting huge amounts, too!


24 Responses to “Memo to President Obama: No more F-22 Raptors”

  1. Jason said


    I understand the costs. They are legitimate concerns. And as you pointed out it appears we have plenty already on hand. But, you should never prepare for the last war, and always plan for the next one. We don’t know know how alliances can change and the new challenges that the U.S. could face. There are several countries out there that act as if they could be our enemy tomorrow. These few countries happen to have first-rate militaries. Personally, I would like to see the sky full of these birds along with the less expensive F-35, if we should ever have to go toe-toe with a modern military.

    Who knows what the world will be like in 2020 and beyond?

  2. sanityinjection said

    I am a supporter of defense spending generally. But we have to spend it smart and not where it’s not needed. We have 180 F-22s already; how many more do you think we need?

    I believe we have to examine defense spending requests just as critically as we would domestic spending. Military spending has its own advocacy industry which cares nothing about the country’s priorities and everything about their own self-interest. One of the things I love about John McCain is that he has never been afraid to stand up against military pork just as he does against domestic pork.

  3. Jason said

    No doubt that defense spending is bloated and they have their own very self interested lobbyist. The DOD waste billions of dollars. Believe me, I know.

    I don’t know the exact number we need. Maybe we have enough already. My point was, just throwing a blanket on spending that will enable us to win the next war as well as prevent a few along the way isn’t healthy. As I said in the earlier comment, I do see your concern and admit there should be better management and more focused spending.

    But, our wasteful spending is a target rich environment. I would much rather see initiative to cut spending in other areas of the government before we limit our capability.

    Maybe the Raptor is too expensive…but man is it bad!

  4. sanityinjection said

    I remember when people questioned (understandably) the expenditures for the development of the Stealth bomber/fighter. Then it proved itself admirably during the Gulf War. But it wasn’t until I actually had the opportunity to observe one flying over me in person that I truly appreciated why the thing is worth its weight in gold. It doesn’t make any noise until it’s already on top of you, at which point if you happen to be an enemy of America you proceed to soil yourself in short order. I recall thinking, *Thank God that thing is ours*.

  5. Dave said

    “At any rate, the Air Force already has 180 F-22s. That seems plenty, considering no other nation is even attempting to build a fighter matching the Raptor’s characteristics.”

    Yep I’m sure no country would ever challenge us in the future now that we’ve burned all the history books.

  6. sanityinjection said

    Dave – I think Easterbrook was suggesting that no other nation would be building new fighters that the obsolete F-22 would be comparable to. If the concern is to keep up with what other nations are doing, we should be concentrating on newer, not older technology.

    As I’ve said, I am a supporter of maintaining defense spending. I don’t think it’s naive or isolationist to suggest that we spend that money wisely.

  7. PapaSan said

    The plane that the Raptor replaces (the F-15) was designed 41 years ago, in 1968. The last F-15C rolled off the production lines in Saint Louis in 1986. Recently a F-15C snapped apart in mid-air with the pilot still seated in the nose due to frame cracks caused by too many flight-hours. Even Hugo Chavez, for example, has factory fresh Russian Su-30s that are more than a match for our old F-15s. Do you want America to be defended by such elderly, worn-out fighters as the F-15?

    The Russians are working on their own version of the Raptor, called a PAK FA T-50. In addition, they have a complete American F-117 stealth fighter to gain stealth secrets from (the one that was shot down in Yugoslavia in 1999). So, how long will it be before they have their own Raptor?

    As for the F-35 Lightning II, it was designed from the start to be a ground attack aircraft, not a plane that could shoot down enemy fighters. And I think we should remember that these Air Force “flyboys” are pledged to go down in flames if necessary to protect our asses.

  8. EchoFiveFoxtrot said

    >”Another excellent explanation from Gregg Easterbrook…”

    Strange, I found nothing excellent nor explanatory after your opening line. I’m new here, so may I ask if the “Sanity” in your title is really a euphemism for “Sarcasm”?

    Fallacy: “Air Force top brass desperately want to buy more F-22 fighter planes…”

    Fact: “THE AIR FORCE desperately NEEDS to buy more F-22s” to replace those individual F-15s which should have been retired years ago but are ‘desperately’ being kept in flying order despite the ends of their service lives.

    Has everyone forgotten the Original Plan 30 years ago to have 700+ then-called “Advanced Tactical Fighters” serving in ALL of our tactical fighter wings? By this time? Because the “new fighters of the day”, the Eagle, would be “old today”? Of course you don’t, due to youth or indifference or both.
    The best minds in your Air Force have already looked at this from every angle and decided that some 380+ Raptors is the very bare minimum we can responsibly “settle with” and still keep your indifferent behinds secure, from all opposing threats both conceived and in conceived of, for the next 40+ years.

    That number means a fleet able to:
    a. Have enough to get aircrews “spun-down” from their Eagles and “spun-up” into their Raptors.
    b. PERMANENTLY retire ALL those old Eagles (which no longer have said aircrews).
    c. A portion dedicated to constant Readiness-to-Deploy/Fight and Exercise; as those skills are highly perishable).
    d. A portion dedicated to constant Readiness-to-Deploy/Fight and Exercises – in our overseas bases (they got old Eagles too you know).
    e. A portion dedicated to Introductory/Intermediate/Advanced Training; as those skills take a long time to develop.
    f. A portion down for in-depth maintenance; as flying sorties do involve some wear-and-tear and we do not possess Borg nanotechnology for our ships to effect self-repairs.
    g. A portion dedicated to experimentation, testing, development, and finding improvements.
    h. And enough to replace those lost through attrition; sorry no Re-Spawns in this scenario.

    And that number still involves old-and-still-getting-older Eagles thrown into the mix to round-out the total complement of Your Air Force. And when those Eagles DO get retired, the Raptors remaining will have reached the half of their service lives – with NO Eagles to back them up in the fight and *nothing else* which will replace them.
    No the F-35 cannot and was never meant to fill the role of pseudo-Eagle nor replacement-Falcon.
    No they haven’t anything else in the works.
    No they can’t just “restart” the production-line “in case we need more in the future”.
    Once a Weapon System is Declared Dead it Stays Dead.
    Your Navy already effed-up once by prematurely retiring its Best Player (Tomcat), hoping “to do in the meantime” with the New Kid from the B Team (Hornet), in its itch to get its own Raptor-like replacement (A-12). Well the expected replacement didn’t make it to the draft and so New Kid and Mutant Cousin (Super Hornet) wound-up forming the Team, yet both together could never match the Tomcat.

    Fallacy: “…a mission that no longer exists — Cold War air superiority against top Soviet interceptors”

    Fact: The Cold-War-as-we-know-it might no longer exist, but the Russian companies haven’t stopped making “top interceptors” (different variants, actually), nor have they stopped their rather annoying habit of exporting such arms to anyone who has the cash. And those *newer* birds were specifically conceived of to defeat those *aging* birds on which you hope to form the backbone of your fighter wings.

    Fallacy: “But Air Force flyboy types love the F-22 because it looks seriously zoomy and is the sole fighter ever built that can sustain supersonic speed for long periods.”

    Fact: Aircrews prefer the Raptor because it IS “zoomy” and it’s super-cruise ability was a design requirement in the first place. If you want to knock a new bird because of perceived aesthetics masking some performance flaws, why don’t you look at the YF-23? That was the ATF competitor to the YF-22, it looked WAY better and “zoomier”, and yet lost out because it didn’t perform better.
    Despite your popular imagination, these decisions are not based solely on the bird’s Sh*t Hot! looks, nor speed, nor by how much they might sexually arouse those who would operate them.

    Fallacy: “But Air Force leadership is not excited by drones. If anything, Air Force leadership is worried that drone aircraft will soon put flyboys out of business.”

    Hmm, tell that to the recently-established-and-still-expanding UAV Recon and Attack squadrons at Nevada and New Mexico.
    Drones cannot and will never replace manned-aircraft, and even if you could “built them all” you couldn’t “fly them all” at the same time. They’ve all got to be flown by remote and, even if you had ALL the proficient-and-experienced operators to handle them, there is no getting around the laws of physics and electromagnetism, i.e. you’ll be running-out of frequencies and bands to use – so there goes your UAV Air Force.
    And no, we’re not “threatened” by the X-47. That dog don’t hunt and is at best a movie inspiration.

    And don’t you delude yourselves into thinking we could ever replace our birds with intelligent-enough UAVs, a la HKs in Terminator, which can somehow “swarm” our “less capable” foes. Much more time and effort have already been spent into making cars that can drive themselves in relatively predictable Western traffic thoroughfares in two-dimensional space, and yet not one is ready for production. What makes you think we’ll be able to do the same for something that operated in three dimensions? With a limited fuel load? With love ordnance? Acting upon unpredictable targets and not-preset objectives? And you want THAT to form the bulk of your McSavers Air Force?

    Ironically, if we did have all those Raptors we wanted in the first place, we’d have some flying over Iraq and Afghanistan right now instead of Eagles; and you wouldn’t be incessantly griping about how “unneeded” they were.

    Crap, I wasn’t even born and raised in this country and even I recognize the enormous foolishness of these decisions of late.

  9. sanityinjection said

    EchoFiveFoxtrot – Don’t hold back, tell us how you really feel.

    I find it interesting that you flip back and forth between the pronouns “you” and “we”, as if you’re not completely sure whether you consider yourself an American or not. You seem to want to assume the role of objective observer, but the passion with which you argue suggests that you have a much greater stake in this issue than you let on. Work for a defense contractor, perhaps?

    Finally, if you could read half as well as you pontificate, you’d know better than to make personal assumptions about me based on an article I’m quoting written by someone else.

  10. PapaSan said

    Secretary Gates loves Radio Controlled Models like Reapers and Predators. Wait till the enemy learns how to jam them or take control of them and drop some laser-guided bombs on our own troops. Rand report circulating on the internet says that the F-35 can’t hold a candle to a Su-30. The Raptor has 1.8 times the wing area of a F-35, and thrust vectoring. Think it could out-turn one? What think you, Sanity Injection (and anyone else)?

  11. sanityinjection said

    PapaSan, this is not my area of expertise, but my understanding is that both the Su-30 and the F-22 are known for their maneuver abilities. The F-35 is still very new, so I have no idea what its capabilities are in that area.

    I think the main point, however, is whether our Air Force should be equipped based on the assumption that we are going to be engaging in “Top Gun”-style fighter battles with Russia. That seems highly unlikely to me. I am glad we have the F-22s that are currently in service, but if they are not useful in the wars we are fighting today, why build more of them?

    • EchoFiveFoxtrot said

      >”the Su-30 and the F-22 are known for their maneuver abilities. The F-35 is still very new, so I have no idea what its capabilities are in that area.”

      Let me help you out: “It doesn’t even come close!”
      It said “Joint ‘Strike’ Fighter” in the very beginning for Chrissakes. It was never made for, nor would you want it to, get into get into that Air Combat Maneuvering situation the aircrews call “a knife fight in a phone booth”.

      >”is whether our Air Force should be equipped based on the assumption that we are going to be engaging in “Top Gun”-style fighter battles with Russia.”

      Contrary to popular delusions, “Within Visual Range” turning furball fights in the sky has not been Official Air Force Air Combat Doctrine for more than a decade now. Stop watching Mav, Goose and Ice Man do their thing, not even the Navy has that Program anymore!
      Primary game plan is to make your way *unseen* into the “Gawdawful Battlespace defended by those Gawdawful Russian-made RADAR-and-SAM Networks” before their “Gawdawful Russian-made Aircraft” can make it up to join the fight. But since it’s impossible to avoid a hornet swarm after you’ve kicked its nest, that’s where the rest of the fighting capabilities come in, day or night.
      Whether it’s Russia herself we’ll be fighting or not, it’s “highly likely” that it’s her toys we’ll be up against. Failed to consider that?

      >”but if they are not useful in the wars we are fighting today, why build more of them?”

      Oh goody! Someone has found the magical means to keep the rest of our fighter fleet from aging for the next Forty Years. We can all sleep tight knowing that they won’t need replacing soon. So this piddling handful of new 22s should be just fine to hold the line in the meantime because it won’t need to fill any gaping holes left by decommissioned aircraft. How wonderful!
      It only took us Twenty Years to get this new bird online, so we have plenty of time to sit on our hands to think-up what will replace it, yes? It will be less-capable, less-expensive, and most importantly it won’t cause such righteous indignation from domestic and overseas parties. Yipee we will finally win them to our cause and no one will want to harm us or ours!

  12. PapaSan said

    I hope you are right, my friend, but I fear that someday, when we need a sharp sword, we will reach over and find only dull ones.

  13. EchoFiveFoxtrot said

    >”I find it interesting that you flip back and forth between the pronouns “you” and “we”“the passion with which you argue suggests that you have a much greater stake in this issue than you let on. Work for a defense contractor, perhaps?”

    Oh as in work for Lockheed-Martin or any of the aircraft sub-systems’ sub-contractors? Hah! I wish! Yeah it says “…Contractor” on my ID, but my job has nothing to do with what happens to the Raptor. The unit of which I have the privilege of calling my client says “Medical…” in its name. Does that still qualify me as a “defense contractor” in your book?

    You and the rest of the twits like to throw-around that term as if all companies who supply goods and services to the entities within DoD, were all entirely about “making sh*t that blow things up and kill people”, to cop a phrase. How shamefully myopic.

    >”Finally…you’d know better than to make personal assumptions about me based on an article I’m quoting written by someone else.”

    And by your opening statement, you made it perfectly clear that your sympathies lie with foolish Greg Hastoreadabook. If you believe you know better why not make a counter-point? Absent that, your quoting him is an approval and testament to your own ignorance-laced-with-arrogance. My personal assumptions wouldn’t be too far off the mark in that regard.

    >”Don’t hold back, tell us how you really feel.”

    I didn’t “pontificate” based on “feelings”. As English is a second language to me, I actually like to pause and “think” before I write something like this. Unlike “your” dear Vice President (as in “not my vote”), I prefer to avoid displaying Foot-in-Mouth Disease symptoms.

    And watch how you use that word: pontificate. I’m Catholic and I actually listen to and agree with what my Pontiff has, and his predecessors had, to say. It’s not like they ramble about pointless matters. Most of the time they write stuff called “Encyclicals”, which are even better than what goes broadcast. Hardly sources of Hot Air that you imagine that word to mean.

  14. This issue just won’t go away. Congress is still trying to add funding for more Raptors, while the Administration is threatening to veto it:

    As I’ve said before, I am not an expert on air force technology. But it seems to me that the Pentagon and the Defense Secretary are better qualified than legislators to decide what equipment is needed. Congress can certainly refuse to fund things it thinks are wasteful, but to try to force DoD to buy things it feels it does not need is bizarre to me – unless the goal is not national defense but lobbying on behalf of Lockheed Martin.

    Further, in the Senate you would be hard pressed to find anyone more knowledgeable on defense issues than Senators Levin (D) and McCain (R). If the top defense guys in both parties are siding with the Administration, it’s time for the Lockheed lobby to capitulate.

  15. I-love-things-that-sparkle said

    Wow, I need a drink after all that! ha ha 🙂

  16. Drake said

    I’m sure people thought we were safe back in 2001……

  17. sanityinjection said

    Update: The Senate voted 58-40 to remove $1.75 billion for 7 more Raptors from the defense bill. I congratulate the Senators from both parties who voted against forcing our military to buy planes it does not want:

  18. PapaSan said

    Sanity Injection,
    With every respect,

    Every person in the U.S.Air Force wants the F-22 and agrees that 187 are not enough to defend our country. Every Person! We are going to get our asses kicked !! We are going to get our asses kicked !! We are going to get our asses kicked !!

    No F-22 – the bad guys are totally, totally free to bomb the rest of our military into oblivion while F-15s break in half trying to catch them. The only choice we will have then is to go nuclear.

    I am sure that the Marines, Army, Navy and Coast Guard also do not want to get the crap bombed out of them by enemy planes. Remember Pearl Harbor?

    If this plane is such a piece of crap, why are the Chinese afraid of them? Why do the Australians and Japanese want to buy them? Why does the U S Air Force want them so bad ?

    Screw the politicians!! All of them!

    • I understand your position, and I have no doubt that there are Air Force officers who share it. I think you are exaggerating just a bit, though. I never suggested that the F-22 is a piece of crap. If I thought that, I would be advocating scrapping the 187 F-22s that we do have, which is what your comments make it sound like we’re doing.

      I am a student of history, and as such I can tell you that there have been very few times when a nation’s security rested on one particular item of technology. Given the massive arsenal of weaponry available to us – no doubt including some things you and I don’t even know about – I think the suggestion that our nation is doomed if we don’t increase our stock of just one kind of fighter plane from 187 to 194 stretches credibility.

      I don’t expect you to agree with me, but we can both hope I’m right.

  19. i-love-things-that-sparkle said

    Why does everyone seem to think that sanity is FOR having NOTHING TO DEFEND OURSELVES WITH? Why doesn’t anyone READ and see that he is saying that we need to put our money into new technology and not something that is so old it needs to be retired??! I don’t know a hillbilly’s spitcan about any of this, but I think we all agree that we need more planes; they just need them to be better, more advanced. We can’t use other countries’ fears of our current ones as an indicator of what we need, we should ALWAYS be ahead of the other guy! Isn’t it that F22 that can’t fly in the rain? (I may be mistaken) but when I heard that, I almost spit out my drink. Can’t fly in the rain? Are you kidding me?? Isn’t there something better? Ugh.

  20. More on the vote here from Slate’s Fred Kaplan:

    Kaplan points out that the Senate vote had a lot to do with jobs and defense contractors and less to do with national security.

  21. PapaSan said


    The United States relies on the Air Force, and the Air Force has never been the decisive

    factor in the history of war.

    —Saddam Hussein,
    before Desert Storm

    High-end conventional war is characterized by the clash of industrial forces. It’s armored, mechanized and increasingly air-power centric. Few are equipped by training or temperament to understand the phenomenon, especially as it concerns air warfare, a relatively recent aspect of the human experience. (In this regard, Saddam Hussein had plenty of company.) But the bottom line is that in high-end conventional war, neither our Army nor Navy can be defeated unless someone first defeats our Air Force.

    For high-end conventional war we’ve built an Air Force that, for now, is virtually unbeatable. Anyone looking at our air-power capabilities knows there is little hope they can concentrate conventional forces for decisive engagement of our Army or Navy. We will track them and pick them to pieces. When Saddam Hussein tried us on for size in the early-1990s, the ground war was a four-day walkover that followed the initial 39 days of aerial combat.

    So today, no one in his right mind wants to fight us in a conventional war. Many are saying this another way: that we have no “peer competitor,” that there is no threat of high-end conventional war. I wouldn’t bet the ranch on that, but, if it is so, it is a desirable condition and one that didn’t happen by accident.

    We have forced anyone with a bone to pick with us to find an alternative to high-end, conventional war. We’ve had to invent a vocabulary for this low end: “asymmetrical” conflict, it being another poorly understood activity. But it seems clear that in this sort of war our existence is not threatened, that we can regulate the resource input. It can be expensive in men and material, but we cannot be defeated militarily.

    When the enemy succeeds, it is because we do not defeat him and then weary of the fight. This is not a good outcome, but it is better—and much cheaper for us in lives and treasure—than losing a high-end, conventional conflict.

    The future air combat capabilities we should build are based on the F-22, a stealthy, fast, maneuverable fighter that is unmatched by any known or projected combat aircraft. But the F-22’s production run may soon come to an end at just 187 planes, well short of establishing the fleet size we need. After all, it’s expensive, and getting more so as the number contemplated has been repeatedly reduced. In an argument they seem to think makes sense, critics say the aircraft has no worthy opponent—as if we want to create forces that do have peer competitors.

    It’s been more than half a century since any American soldier or Marine has been killed, or even wounded, by hostile aircraft, a period roughly coincident with the existence of the Air Force as a separate service. Even during the Korean War—the Air Force’s first engagement wearing new, blue uniforms—enemy air attack was primitive and rare. The main air battle was fought along the Yalu River, just as in Vietnam it was fought over Hanoi, and in Desert Storm, over Baghdad. Our guys on the ground had hard work to do, but when they looked up, they saw only friendly skies.

    For the life of me, I can’t understand why we should wish to change this.

    Gen. McPeak (ret.), Air Force chief of staff from 1990 to 1994, was a national co-chair of Obama for President.

    • I’m a little surprised that General McPeak would cite the example of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq in support of the F-22, given that the F-22 didn’t fly one mission in the action that toppled Hussein from power. McPeak’s piece is one big logical fallacy – he spends most of his time arguing for the importance of maintaining air power, but only feints at attempting to prove that we cannot maintain it without the F-22.

      In any case, this is a dead issue – time to move on to other matters.

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