Published July 21, 2009
The F-22 Raptor: The Air Force doesn't want it. The Secretary of Defense doesn't want it. Security experts say we don't need it. And fiscal hawks say there are much less expensive and better alternatives. Yet the pork barrel spenders in Congress insist on putting the Raptor back in the Defense Budget.
Why? Because incumbents figure they can buy votes by bragging to their constituents that they brought home the bacon with defense spending in the district. That's why the Raptor's subcontracts were sprinkled across 44 states -- to insure Congress would add it back in the the budget even if the Pentagon cut it out. They've figured out a simple but fundamental truth -- they can bribe the public with the public's money. The incumbents get to keep their jobs but to the nation's detriment.
If we had an infinite amount of money to spend on defense, of course, the F-22 would be great. But we don't. We need to increase the size of the Army and Marines. We need to increase resources devoted to intelligence. So let's do the same job the Raptor would do but with cheaper weapons systems -- pilotless combat drones like the Predator and its successor the Reaper ($8 million each) -- which have proven effective and lethal in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.
I was in the Pentagon in the early 1980's when we first ordered the Raptor -- at $60 million apiece. But so far the Raptor has taken almost thirty years to produce and come in at $350 million per plane, with future orders at $167 million a piece.
The original plan for the Raptor was to deal with anything the Soviets could put in the air. But the Soviet Union is no more and its successor, the Russian Air Force, can be bested with something far less costly and more reliable than the Raptor.
And while no one disputes that the Raptor has lots of bells and whistles, only half of the current fleet are flight-ready, and none of them have been used in combat missions Iraq or Afghanistan.
We should scrap plans for more Raptors in favor of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter aircraft -- which is cheaper, more flexible and represents the next generation of technology. It is a better investment in national security. But it's not as good for pork barrel spending, so Congress CUT $530 million from the Joint Strike Fighter's budget!
The only thing we should do with the F-22 Raptor is rename it -- The White Elephant.
Kathleen Troia "K.T." McFarland served in national security posts in the Nixon, Ford and Reagan Administration. She is a former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense