Monday, December 5, 2016

Should Donald Trump's administration restart F-22 production?

The F-22 Raptor. US Air Force photo. 

In a piece in the National Interest, Peter Layton argues that it might be a good idea for President elect Donald Trump to restart production of the F-22.  Donald Trump has vowed to increase the military budget and by doing so he could gain more "bang for the buck" by restarting production of the F-22. US dominance in air power is on the decline, due in large part to the lackluster F-35 and the cuts to the production of the F-22 due to budget cuts. The F-35 program, bloated and over budget, is unlikely to come fully into service until up to a decade from now. The aircraft, originally designed as a supplement to the F-22 is now being asked to take up it's role and the plane has not met those requirements. If production was restarted new F-22's could be in service in as little as two years. Restarting the F-22 program would also create new jobs.

My Comment:
I don't think it very likely that the F-22 is going to resume production anytime soon. Sure, if there was some kind of national emergency or massive war breaking out I could see it happening but right now it seems unlikely. I doubt that Donald Trump will raise the budget enough that we could keep ordering F-35's and produce F-22's at the same time. Both programs are obscenely expensive and even though the F-22 offers more bang for the buck, the F-35 is still cheaper (in theory if not in practice). 

Of course we could save some money if we just cut the F-35 program to the bone. We are going to be stuck with a large number of the fighters no matter what, but there is no reason at this point to continue to digging ourselves a hole with the fighter. It just can't do what we want it to do. It is supposed to be a bomb truck that has some ability to defend itself, not a front line fighter tasked with clearing the skies. 

But we won't ever get rid of the F-35. Why? Because there are so many congressional districts and even international considerations involved with the production of the plane. Getting rid of it, or even slowing down production, is politically impossible, probably even for Donald Trump. Too many palms are getting greased, too many people are getting rich, too many jobs are at stake, and too many politicians have pork to deliver.  

If it were up to me I would cancel the current F-35 program for the Air Force at least. But I am not sure about the other branches. The Marines desperately need a replacement for the Harrier jump jet. Though cool, the jet is hopelessly out of date and not what the Marines need these days. The F-35B is probably good enough for their needs and is honestly an improvement over the Harrier. For what the Marines need it for, close air support and some defense for their landing ships, I think the F-35B is probably good enough.

With most of the Air Force's F-35's canceled I would move production to the F-22's and build enough to them to ensure air superiority. The 380 or so originally ordered (counting the 187 currently in service) would probably be enough. The F-35's role as a bomb truck that can defend itself if need be can be played by upgraded 5th generation fighter jets for the time being until a suitable replacement for the F-35 can be found. We would also have the 180 or so F-35's already built to play around with if we needed fighters right away, we just don't need to build any more of them for the Air Force at least.

The Navy would present more of a problem then the Air Force variants though. The Navy doesn't have an equivalent to the F-22 to launch from carriers. They only have the F-35C and the F-18 Super Hornets. I like the Super Hornet but it's not a game changer like the F-22 is. The Navy needs a stealth plane and I think that the F-35 is going to be that for now. I do think that there should be a new program for developing a true air superiority fighter for the Navy. 

No matter what though, the article is right, we are losing air superiority. Both the Russians and the Chinese are upgrading their jets and anti-air capabilities. We have to keep up with that and the F-35 isn't good enough. Indeed, the Chinese's J-31 is essentially the same aircraft as the F-35, only with a 2nd engine and a lot less of the problems. If the Russians and Chinese do catch up it would be a dark day for US aviation and could cost us a potential war with either nation. 

I do hope that Donald Trump can somehow find his way to solving this mess. Trump has a large hill to climb as our military procurement is a travesty. We have several wasteful and inefficient programs just like the F-35. The other one that jumps out at me is the Littoral Combat Ships, but they are far from the only examples. I honestly don't know how someone would fix a problem like this, but here's hoping that Trump can at least make a go of it... 

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