Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The Coming Fighter Gap

Once again, Robert Gates has been shown to be wrong, wrong, WRONG on the F-22. And it's going to hurt us. Badly. Today, Mackenzie Eaglen and Lajos F. Szaszdi of the Heritage Foundation released What Russia’s Stealth Fighter Developments Mean for America, a look at what the forthcoming fifth-gen Russian PAK FA stealth fighter, meant to rival the F-22, will do to our hold on air superiority over the next 10-20 years and beyond.

Let's quote Secretary Gates, as per the paper's abstract:

"Defense analysts, officials, and industry personnel have long believed that the U.S. F-22 Raptor and the F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter would not face serious threats from foreign fifth-generation fighters for the next 20 years. In September 2009, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates repudiated claims of a looming “fighter gap”—a deficit between the services’ fighter aircraft inventories and their operational requirements. “[T]he more compelling gap,” he argued, “is the deep chasm between the air capabilities of the United States and those of other nations.”"

Whoops. Thanks to Secretary Gates' termination of the F-22 program, ostensibly due to its expense (duh, you kept cutting it back, OF COURSE the price per aircraft is going to go up) at 187 aircraft, instead of the roughly 500 originally planned, and the serious problems with the F-35's various incarnations (none of which come close to matching the stealth or air-to-air capabilities of the F-22 Raptor), including rising costs which may even force the cost per plane near what we're paying for the Raptors. We may as well have bought the 500 Raptors, from a budgetary perspective.

To make matters worse, Eaglen and Szaszdi tell us the Russians will be looking to sell the PAK to people like Algeria, India, Vietnam, Libya, Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Indonesia, Malaysia, Kazakhstan, and yes... the People's Republic of China. Doesn't that sound like a good time? They're all going to have fighters superior to the F-35 and the Typhoon, and the near equal of the Raptor. Maybe a LOT of them. Thanks, Gates!

Hopefully the GOP will do something to resuscitate the F-22, and quick, in Congress after the New Year. But in the current fiscal climate, I doubt it.