SecDef Robert Gates dropped the other shoe yesterday. He announced his budget plans for the coming period and it included his proposals for shaping the force. That involves acquisition proposals for weapons. It also involves production adjustments, purchase forecasts and program proposals. Here's the coverage:
Raptor Eggs Make Omelets
As a tactical aviator by temperment, training and experience, it tugs at my hardened heart to see the F-22 program not extended. I was there at the beginning, working at Northrop on the YF-23 proposal when the outline was for around 800 of those airplanes. It would have essentially replaced the entire F-15 air superiority fleet. That, of course was right at the leading edge of the collapse of the Soviet Union. It was 13 years before 9/11.
Along the way the program was stretched, not for military reasons usually, but for political ones. Dollars and jobs drive these things as much as operational effectiveness. Eventually as the remarkable aircraft came online, the total buy had been whittled down to 187 aircraft. At raw numbers that is ten squadrons--but that isn't true. Some of those birds are development and test-beds. A couple of squadrons are training dedicated. Combat ready, you'll be lucky to see six fully operational squadrons.
Everyone hoped for an extension. There's 90,000 jobs attached to the program and it will be hard for the Messiah to shield that number from scrutiny. But, Gates makes the case that the competition for an airplane like the Raptor doesn't pose that great a threat any more.
The pacifist press plays the "cancellation" headline at the top. But, read the rest of the request. Down lower in the news the buy of the lighter, smaller, ground-attack optimized F-35 is at about 2400 aircraft! The Lightning II (fighter pilots won't call it that!) is the replacement for the F-16 Viper. It is the bird that will be the flex fighter for the most likely conflicts of the next twenty years. It is stealthy, capable of precise munitions delivery and respectable in the potential air-to-air arena particularly if supported by a handful of Raptors conducting sweeps.
The desired reaction from the unwashed masses is, "Oh goodie. More money for my welfare check and less for those nasty old military brutes. Peace is at hand!" But, in reality, the Gates proposal appears to be a rational approach to the new situation. It maintains a sizeable force capable of responding effectively to foreseeable threats. It clearly isn't a disarmament by any interpretation.
The problem now is how the proposal will come out of the sausage grinder. Common sense or national defense don't usually enter into that equation.