McCain: Kill funding for the F-22 in favor of F-35. Is that a good idea?

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?

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4 comments

  1. I’m a big military aviation buff and I think we need the Raptor, especially with the proliferation of the damn good Sukhoi variants. The WaPo ran a story last week on reliability problems with the Raptor, but it is still early in its service life. Apparently the stealthy skin isn’t too durable. I hope they fix it.

  2. I am inclined by experience and training to see us stop further expense, where possible, on the F-22. As a former Navy pilot and maintenance test pilot, the costs for this program, weighed against our other defense needs just do not add up.

    As a veterans counselor, I also see a critical need for more targeting of resources towards the men on the ground while in service and their needs as veterans after they leave active service.

    At our entry into WWII we had the 13th largest Army in the world, but the best economy; our industrial might won the war, not the obsolescent P-40s or any other aircraft that we could possibly have put into service by 1941-42. How long will we have the best economy if we do not spend our resources wisely?

    By most estimates, the US spends more on defense than the next eight countries combined, most of which are our allies.

  3. its a stupid things to cancel the F-22, its already in production and its proven fighter, they just tell wrong lies about it. for that you will in blood dearly in the future war just in world war 2

    the best strategy in war is inflict heavy damage to your foes and less in your side it can drop bomb too but if u want heavy hitter use the damm heavy bomber

  4. The big question here is not about whether F22/F35 is capable of what was claimed in their capabilities, which is better or even which enemy aircraft can it take down?

    It’s about: Perceived threat vs Real threat.

    In all modern fighter pilot syllabus, one of the most critical fighting teachings is “kill your enemy before visual range”. That’s to say, majority of wars are fought at once-impossible distances. But this is a minor “oversight” of America’s military build up.

    In all of America’s fighters, how many of them are not capable of dominating the skies? All of them are known to be already extremely capable. We’ve seen it in Kuwait, we’ve seen it in Afghanistan, we’ve seen it in Iraq. That’s only the first part.

    The second part is what mocks America’s vision of the world right down to the core. Russia has many ex-USSR advanced projects cancelled, so technically whatever F22/F35 was designed to kill does not even exist anymore. China on the other hand, copied pretty much the technology and design of Russia (with some of their own inventions) so the same assessment applies. In America’s argument of “development to match 21st century’s modern weaponry”, it’s dubious and at the same time – utterly xenophobic.

    Whenever America steps out to talk about “future threat”, one can’t help but question – what threat? The (wasteful) development is nothing more than satisfying the ego of having the newest, the fastest, the most powerful fighters on Earth.

    Just imagine how much more benefit can be achieved when that same $30B can be planted to F-15, F-16 and F-18 to extend their fighting capabilities in terms of various roles and long range fighting kits.

    What’s even more ironical is – F-22 was never tested in a real war. Only simulations and exercises. I never fail to laugh whenever someone steps up to say F-22 is a proven platform. A good fighter is not only about what it can do in the air or how many people’s blood you can drain, it’s about maintenance and the logistic of the aircraft too. Would you buy a $20,000 car that will cost you a $5,000 maintenance cost every drive? Common sense rules above ego.

    Now that the F-22 has ceased production beyond what’s ordered, I can safely say it’s the end of someone’s expensive hobby at the price of her taxpayers. But taxpayers who are gloating should refrain just yet, because the 100+ F-22s will continue to see your money being drained.

    There is no country in the world which is in a bigger arm race than America herself.

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