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Russia-US Arms Control Agreements Frameworks And Obama-Medvedev Press Conference | Main | Heretic Hunting in the GOP
July 06, 2009

Fisking the Media's and Obama's Spin (But I Repeat Myself) on the F-22

An informed reader sends me his thoughts on the F-22 cancellation. I'm reprinting his email unattributed, but he is, in fact, "informed."

I have taken the liberty of rewriting a lot of it, especially idiosyncratically-phrased passages so that no amount of textual analysis can identify him as the writer. These changes only concern style, not substance. I haven't intensified his language or anything.

Here's Politico, Court Stenographer for the Obama Regency.

In case you don't know, "air superiority aircraft" are top-of-the-line fighters primarily tasked with achieving, well, air superiority. Killing all enemy fighters and also being sneaky enough and precise enough to take out enemy radar installations and anti-aircraft missile batteries. So that other aircraft, not the dedicated dogfighters, but the ground-pounders, can then work their deadly magic on enemy ground forces without being shot to hell every ten minutes.

Compared to other aircraft, air superiority fighters are the fastest, most agile, and most technologically advanced. They're also relatively fragile compared to bigger aircraft, but survive fights due to the fact that they're very hard to hit in the first place, and also because they're armed with threat-defeating missiles that kill threats before they have time to attack at all.

Any air superiority aircraft can also be tasked to take out ground targets, too, though they're not optitmized for that (for one thing, they tend to be lighter aircraft with smaller payloads, so they don't fly with a belly full of big bombs).

But those bigger, slower, more durable ground-pounders can't enter hostile airspace until air superiority fighters turn it into friendly airspace.

Here are the real facts:

I'm okay with the decision to kill it. But not for any of the reasons this moronic article offers.

Just a few points:

"Gates has argued that not a single F-22 has flown in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But there simply are no enemy air forces there."

True. But where are enemy air forces? China, Russia, North Korea, Iran, and anyone else who wants to field an air force.

The relevant question is instead: Shall for those potential adversaries instead of just the technologically feeble? And if you have to fight them-- or deter them-- do you want to only be "good enough," or do you want the insurance provided by overkill?

"Also, the F-22 is outrageously expensive. The 187 now authorized are costing the nation more than $65 billion, almost $350 million for each one."

Entirely untrue. That's averaged across the entire development program. The "flyaway cost"-- i.e., the marginal cost out of pocket for each additional new F-22 built-- is $138 million. Still expensive-- roughly twice the flyaway cost of a new F-15E or the "notional" cost of an F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (which itself also hasn't been fielded yet, for any price)-- but nowhere near $350M.

The R&D on the F-22 is now sunk cost-- we're never getting any of that money back. The only price that matters in 2009 and beyond is the flyaway cost.

Let me note here how dishonest this is. The total effective cost, including years of R&D and testing, as well as the first several planes produced (which always cost much more money than later planes, which are cheaper to produce as the manufacturing process is streamlined and improved), is simply not the relevant "cost" hear at all. It doesn't matter that we spent, I don't know, $50 billion developing this thing. Those costs are, as the reader writes, "sunk," that money lost. We do not get it back by abstaining from producing new jets.

The only relevant cost is the marginal cost of producing additional units, which tends to fall over time.

Total effective cost is only relevant in deciding whether the project, overall, was worth it. When evaluating if the F-22, overall, was a worthy project, yes, indeed, it's useful to know that the total cost of each plane, when years and years of R&D and prototyping and testing are included, is $350 million. But that number is irrelevant when deciding whether or not it's worth it to produce more planes. In that case, what matters is how much each plane actually costs to produce, parts and labor, no R&D costs included.

And the total effective cost, by the way, goes up the fewer units that are eventually produced -- if 1000 F-22s are produced, then those R&D costs are spread out pro-rata over all thousand jets. If only 40 are produced, those costs are divided only by 40.

This happens all the time in military procurement. Purchases are reduced from initial estimates, making each unit "cost" more, as the fewer units actually produced now represent a much greater fraction of the R&D costs required to produce a single one of them.

So, if I wanted to be as dishonest as these guys, I could say "By stopping the planned future purchases of F-22s, you've retroactively made each one we've bought cost more."

Now, that's kind of ridiculous, but these guys are using the same sort of math to inflate the flyaway cost-per-plane, so I can do it too. Obama is costing us money by cancelling the F-22.

"And, while the F-22 is less detectable by some radar at certain angles, it is easily detectable to many types of radar in the world, including early Russian and Chinese models. Just ask the pilots of the two stealthy F-117 bombers that were put out of action by Serbs in the 1999 Kosovo air war using antiquated radar systems."

We only lost one F-117 in the Kosovo War. And while the way the Serbs bagged it is still classified, what they had to go through in order to do it wasn't simple, wasn't easily replicable, and required an ample dollop amount of low-tech luck.

The F-117 is first-generation stealth technology from the 1970s. The F-22 is third generation stealth technology fundamentally different (and more capable) than the earlier technology used on the F-117.

Any aircraft can be shot down. The "golden BB," or lucky/destined-by-fate shot, doesn't discriminate. No one is arguing the F-22 is invulnerable. Only that, in 2009, it without peer in air superiority missions.

"Worse, the F-22 depends on its radar and long-range, radar-guided missiles. Such 'beyond visual range' radar-based air warfare has failed time and time again in war."

False. BVR was technologically challenging in the 1960s and 1970s, and deserved much of the scorn heaped upon it (although the tough engagement rules in Vietnam requiring visual identification contributed much to it).

But today there's no question on any legitimate military observer's part that BVR engagements are and will continue to be the norm. It's just too lethal.

As for the F-22 depending on its radar, that's incorrect: like any U.S. aircraft, most BVR engagements are facilitated by AWACS aircraft-- the AWACS radar (or another friendly radar, in the air or on the ground) spots the bad guys. The shooter never has to paint the target itself, let alone see it.

"The radar not only signals the F-22s presence to enemies but also acts as a beacon for their radar-homing missiles."

And if that's a threat, that's an easy one to defeat: turn off the damn targeting radar the moment an incoming missile is detected. Unlike an air-to-surface anti-radiation missile like the HARM-- which is faced with a target that won't move, like a radar truck-- any radar-homing anti-aircraft missile doesn't have that luxury. [In other words, it can't simply continue travelling towards its last known contact and hope to hit the target, as anti-radar-truck missiles can -- ace.]

"Second, its aerodynamic performance, short-range missiles and guns are nothing special, which I observed at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada when an F-16 'shot down' an F-22 in exercises."

Everybody gets lucky in Vegas once in a while. How many F-16s (and F-15s, and F/A-18s) were shot down to bag that one F-22? Quite a few, actually.

This is not the official position. I can see merits in either position. The SECDEF feels strongly about it, certainly. And not because he's been instructed to-- he wasn't a fan in the Bush years, either.

Personally, though, I'd rather buy more to err on the side of prudence. A lot of folks are touting the F-35 as capable enough, but unfortunately, it's not flying yet. Plenty of aircraft have performed exquisitely on paper and in flight testing only to be disappointing once deployed-- F-111, F-14, the B-1-- not to mention more expensive than the contractors originally advertised (like, say, the F-22).

Finally, if you're going to skimp on aircraft, why oh why would you skimp on air superiority aircraft, of all things? If Iraq and Afghanistan has taught us anything, once you control the skies, with GPS-guided munitions you can turn anything at all into a bomb truck-- B-52s, dinky little Predators. Anything. The skies are clear for all friendly forces.

However, the question is moot. Just as Congress demanded far more C-130 transports than the military thought needed, the F-22 is going to be the high-quality pork product of the coming decade. The DoD probably won't have to budget for a single additional plane, as Congressmen will earmark for additional aircraft as long as the production lines stay open (as they did previously in the case of the F-16C/D and the F-15E).

digg this
posted by Ace at 02:23 PM

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