Thursday, May 14, 2009

Killing the Raptor Will Be Bloody

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates’ recent decision to kill production of the F-22 Raptor is disappointing to more than just the employees of the aircraft’s manufacturer and those of the sub-contractors who participate in the production of the aircraft. It is disappointing to the pilots of the F-15 Eagle and F-16 Falcon squadrons of the U.S. Air Force. Disappointing, not only because many of them will never get to pilot a Raptor, but because they now know that in the future more of them will die flying the aging Eagles and Falcons. Secretary Gates has traded blood for money.

Critics of the Raptor will claim the plane is too expensive. It is the most expensive fighter anyone has ever produced. But critics of military spending will say that improving the infantryman’s canteen is too expensive a proposition. Some critics have claimed its intended mission is a remnant of the Cold War. Nonsense. The mission of the F-22 is air superiority. This has been the mission of fighter aircraft since fighter planes first appeared over the battlefield in WWI. Establishing air superiority means the control of the airspace over a battlefield and denying that airspace to the enemy. It means your ground forces can maneuver and fight with no danger from above. It means attacking the enemy from the air with complete flexibility. It means your wounded get evacuated to medical care faster and in total safety. This mission is no longer relevent?

The evolution of the fighter plane goes like this. First generation – the bi-planes of WWI. Made of wood and canvas, armed with a machine gun, low speed and low ceiling. The Sopwith Camel, a British plane, was head of the class. And for all you folks who only get your news from The Daily Show, the Camel was real, not just Snoopy’s doghouse. Second generation – the monowings of WWII. Metal frames and skins, very powerful engines, multiple machine guns and/or cannons, higher speeds, ceilings above 20,000 feet. The American P-51 Mustang, fitted with the Rolls-Royce Merlin engine was seen by Luftwaffe head Hermann Goering over Berlin escorting B-17 bombers. Goering turned to an aide and said, “The war is lost”. Third generation – the sub-sonic jet. The Meserschmitt ME-262 was the first jet fighter to see combat. Deployed too late in WWII to make a difference in the outcome, it flew higher and faster (by over 100 mph) than the P-51. The best examples of this generation of fighter were the American F-86 Sabre and the Russian MIG-15. Going head-to-head in the Korean War, the F-86 established a kill ratio of 10-1 over the MIG-15. Fourth Generation – the super-sonic jet. This is the current generation of fighter. By a wide margin the F-15 Eagle is the gold standard. Besides the U.S., the Eagle is flown by Japan, Israel and Saudi Arabia. Like Rocky Marciano, the F-15 is undefeated. No Eagle has ever been lost to enemy aircraft fire. A 104-0 record.

The only problem with the F-15 is its age. It has been in service for more than thirty years. Sooner or later, probably sooner, an enemy of the U.S., probably Russia, is going to develop a plane that can match or surpass the F-15. The Russians have a pesky little habit of deploying new military weapons, weapons assumed to be beyond their technological capacity, by surprise and at the most dis-advantageous time to its enemies. The T-34 tank was deployed in the summer of 1941 to the shock of German generals. It was more advanced than anything Germany had to that point. In Korea, the American F-80 Shooting Star was doing quite well until China entered the war, and with it the MIG-15. Unlike anything before, its design and abilities sent the U.S. Air Force into spasms. So a rival, or worse, a superior to the F-15 is on the way. We just don’t know how soon it will debut.

The F-22 Raptor is not the next generation of fighter. The Raptor skips a generation. The current generation of fighters can all fly at supersonic speeds. But not for very long. Most cannot launch weapons at the edge of their envelopes. The F-22 can not only reach higher supersonics speeds than anything other fighter in the sky, but it can cruise at these speeds. And can use all of its weapons at these speeds. In fact, the F-22 is so fast and so maneuverable, that its flight control software has inhibitors built into it to prevent the jet from performing maneuvers that would kill the pilot. The Raptor may well be the last manned fighter plane America produces. Oh, and did I mention that the F-22 is also invisible to enemy radars? The F-22 guarantees that America will command air superiority in the skies above any battlefield we would find our selves on long into the future. And this means who knows how many fewer flag draped coffins.

One hopeful note from history. In 1979 President Carter cancelled the B-1 bomber, in favor of refitting the venerable B-52 with the then new cruise missile. At the time the B-52 was approaching 30 years in active service. The B-1 was one of the first deployed U.S. aircraft to use radar evading tactics and nascent stealth technologies. Another thing in the long list of things Ronald Reagan deserves credit for is the restoration of the B-1 project during his first administration.

The scenario Secretary Gates and President Obama have signed the pilots of the U.S. Air Force onto is this: Fighters with equal of greater capabilities than the F-15 will come into the inventories of our enemies. This will mean that greater than necessary numbers of F-15 and F-16 pilots will die in engagements with these planes. Our ground forces will be exposed to attack from the air, and more of them will die than now do while America still can maintain total air superiority. Those wounded in ground combat will not get to medical care as quickly, and those who transport them will also face attack and death from above. This administration has traded blood for money.


The Flying Tiger said...

The F35 Joint Strike Fighter will be a capable replacement for the F-15 & F-16. It is more versatile than the F-22 and also stealthy. We do not nned the F-22

Auguste Ballz said...

The F-35 will be a very good replacement for the F-16, the F-18 (eventually) and the Marine version of the Harrier VSTOL jet. It is versatile, stealthy and less expensive than the F-22. But it will not be a good replacement for the F-15. The F-15 was the first US jet designed specifically as an air-superiority platform. All previous US jets were multi-missioned aircraft. They all did several things capabily, but no one thing excellently. The F-15 changed that. 104-0. There's never been any other plane with an undefeated record. The Raptor will maintain this type of performance by dint of its generation skipping advances in performance, target aquisition, and stealth. And that will save American lives in the air and on the ground. May I ask you a question, which of these do think costs more, one F-22 or one headstone at Arlington?

LawhawkSF said...

The only thing I'm concerned about is that we have something far better than anything anybody else has. We've learned from bitter experience in Korea and Vietnam that we can't afford to play catchup after the shooting has already started. With the current administration, I suspect they are ordering Sopwith Camels with wing muskets.

Auguste Ballz said...

Well, we are going to get about 190 out of an original order of about 340. And the Raptor is far better than anything else that would fly against it. But that bitter lesson may very well appear in our mouth. But I'm sure Lockheed isn't going to throw the jigs and other manufacturing tools away, you a new President could re-lauch the program a la Reagan and the B-1

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