Just saw this from Senator McCain’s Twitter:
Fighting the good fight on Senate floor 2 strike F-22 funding from DoD bill –saving the taxpayer $1.75 b – Need Joint Strike Fighter instead
The F-22 Raptor is an air-superiority fighter, arguably the best in the world today. The manufacturers, Lockheed and Boeing, say the aircraft is completely capable in both the air-to-air and air-to-ground roles but there’s little doubt, based on the examination of the aircraft’s features, that the primary thought behind her design was control of the skies. She’s a fighter and a damned good one at that.
The Joint Strike Fighter, the F-35 Lightning II, is a Lockheed design and is designed around the concept of modularity and significant component re-use. Unlike the F-22 there are actually 3 variants of the F-35. One is a traditional fixed-wing, airbase-operated fighter-attack craft that will take off and land from prepared runways. The design criteria for this variant is ordnance load – heavy and flexible.
The second variant is for carrier operations. This one goes for the same requirements as the first with whatever concessions must be made when dealing with 1) a much shorter runway, 2) catapult launches and arresting-wire landings, 3) space considerations and 4) a marine operating environment. Her wings have to fold and she’s got weight limitations.
The last variant is a V/STOL or Vertical/Short Take Off and Landing aircraft. Designed with the US Marine Corp in mind, this variant will essentially be a replacement for the Harrier II “jump jet” only better. The F-35 V/STOL will be able to go supersonic where the Harrier cannot.
What makes this program compelling is the “Joint” part of “Joint Strike Fighter.” While the differences between the variants are certainly there and require some not-too-insignificant work, the ship is basically the same design. Many of the components will be the same and will be interchangeable. Not since all 3 of the branches that deploy fixed-wing fighters used the F-4 Phantom has there been a single aircraft in use across our military with such commonality.
But is it correct to say America needs the F-35 at the cost of not having the F-22? The Raptor is a twin-engine aircraft where the F-35 is a single. That gives the F-35 the advantage in cost and, perhaps, maintenance, but at the cost of the F-22’s reliability and sheer power. The F-22 uses thrust vectoring to give it unmatched maneuverability where the F-35 has no such system. This increases the F-22’s complexity, however, and – like the man said – the more you complicate the plumbing the easier it is to stop up the drain*. While I haven’t done a “stare and compare” between the data sheets of the 2 aircraft I find it hard to imagine that the F-35 is capable of outperforming the F-22 in terms of speed, ceiling, climb rate, etc. I have no doubt the F-35 is a good ship but if she’s not in the same class as the F-22 then that leaves us with the possibility that she won’t be able to outmatch anything our enemies might put into the air in the next 10 years.
What do you think? I’m especially interested in the thoughts of our current and former military pilots but let’s keep this open to everyone else as well. Should we follow McCain’s strategy and kill off funding for the F-22 in favor of the F-35 or should we fund both at lower levels?