Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Saving The Raptor

Source: http://www.ibdeditorials.com/IBDArticles.aspx?id=330565465708009

By INVESTOR'S BUSINESS DAILY | Posted Monday, June 22, 2009 4:20 PM PT

Defense: By a narrow margin, a House subcommittee has voted to keep open the F-22 Raptor production line. The future of American air dominance and the fate of the world's most capable fighter hang in the balance.

Read More: Military & Defense

On May 30, with North Korea huffing and puffing about nuclear war, the first of 12 high-tech U.S. F-22 Raptor fighter jets landed at Kadena Air Base on the southern Japanese island of Okinawa. It was just days after North Korea unnerved the region by detonating a nuclear device.

There were reasons the F-22 was deployed to Japan. The stealthy, radar-evading fighter jet is quite simply the best aircraft of its kind in the world. It can slice through enemy air defenses and clear the skies of enemy planes virtually undetected. So why aren't we building more than we have?

That was the question asked last week when the House Armed Services Air and Land Forces Subcommittee voted 31-30 to add $369 million for the production of an additional 12 F-22s to keep assembly lines open while a debate over the need for the jet reopens.

Subcommittee Chairman Neil Abercrombie, a Democrat from Hawaii, which might be the target of a North Korean Taepodong-2 missile on or about July 4, thinks we should buy at least 20 more.

The Japanese wanted to buy 200 F-22s to counter the North Korean and Chinese threats. The Air Force's original plans were for 750 F-22 Raptors to replace an aging F-15 Eagle fleet that was recently grounded after one disintegrated from old age in flight. Now the Japanese will get none, and we will get no more.

Production of the Raptor was capped at 187 in the defense cuts slated for the 2010 budget, with the last aircraft to be delivered in late 2011 or early 2012 from the Lockheed Martin plant in Marietta, Ga.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates argues we can't afford to build the F-22 and the F-35 Joint Strike fighter and that we have all the F-22s we need. So he's dumping the F-22 in favor of the cheaper F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter, although it's vastly inferior in air-to-air combat and ground defense penetration.

Gates and F-22 critics have acted as if the planes are interchangeable. They are not. The Raptor is designed as an air superiority fighter. The F-35, as its description implies, is designed for ground attack. It does not have Mach 1.5 supercruise capability or high-altitude vectored maneuvering.

During exercises in Alaska in 2006, 12 Raptors "downed" 108 adversaries without losing a single F-22. In a test of its ground-attack capabilities, a Raptor dropped a 1,000-pound JDAM precision guided bomb and struck a moving target 24 miles away.

Gates argues that wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have shown the need for such high-tech weapons are over. But not every potential enemy is armed only with an AK-47 and a copy of the Quran. Some are trying to shoot ballistic missiles at us.

The F-22 is perhaps the only plane that could evade the sophisticated S-300 surface-to-air missile-defense system Russia has contracted to sell Iran. The S-300 is "one of the most lethal, if not the most lethal, all-altitude area defense" systems, says the International Strategy and Assessment Service, a Virginia-based think tank.

Policy analyst Michael Fumento notes "the newer S-400 system, already deployed, is far better able to detect low-signature targets at far greater distances" than the S-300. "Only the F-22 can survive in airspace defended by increasingly capable surface-to-air missiles," declared Air Force Association President Mike Dunn in December.

"In my opinion, a fleet of (only) 187 F-22s puts execution of our current national military strategy at high risk in the near to midterm," Gen. John Crowley, head of Air Combat Command, wrote in a June 9 letter to Sen. Saxby Chambliss, Republican from Georgia, where the plane undergoes final assembly.

Building the F-22 aids our economic as well as national security. Remember all those jobs President Obama wanted to create or save? At stake are America's continued air dominance and 95,000 highly paid and highly skilled jobs in 44 states.

Defending America should be job one.

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