The 60′s era USAF “fighter mafia” is apparently in a lather over the F-22, and being enabled in their anger by the kinds of people who tend to think that any new military acquisition program is inherently wasteful:
Lockheed Martin is starting work this month on its latest multi-billon dollar contract to build 60 F-22 Raptors, the most advanced fighter aircraft in the world. But many critics, including the Government Accountability Office, are calling the continued production of the Raptor a costly mistake for U.S. taxpayers and U.S. security.
“It makes anyone angry who is concerned about the real defense of the country and not abusing the taxpayer,” said Pierre Sprey, the man who designed the F-16 and A-10 fighters. “This is the opposite.”
Sprey was one of three men who made up the so-called “Fighter Mafia” in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Sprey, along with John Boyd and Col. Everest Riccioni, helped revolutionize American aircraft design, challenging many of the notions under which the U.S. military had operated for years.
He said the F-22 is a near-perfect example of what the “Fighter Mafia” told the military to avoid.
“The F-16A, as it was in 1986, can whip today’s F-22,” said Sprey. “You’d think the F-22 would be able to whip some antique.”
Well, maybe. If a Viper jock managed to somehow blunder into a merge with the F-22 alive he might well have a fighting chance of claiming a kill. But by that token, I’d be hesitant to engage a Mitsubishi Zero in a one circle fight in my FA-18. Those things can turn on a dime.
The problem for the F-16 (as well as a my theoretical Zero) would be surviving to the merge with the F-22 in sufficient numbers to make a difference. Because say you start out with twenty F-16s or their equivalents against a four- or eight-ship of Raptors and maybe you personally win the lottery odds and survive to the merge.
With four or eight Raptors.
From the performance videos I’ve seen, that can’t be a very congenial place to be.
Are the airplanes expensive? Hell yes, but by the time you factor in full life-cycle costs for the Raptor buy as contrasted to what you’d need to match them in equivalent conventional combat power, the F-22 could well turn out to be a bargain.
This isn’t to say that the new technologies that Sprey goes off on are infallible – something will come along in time to knock the Raptor off its post, and for every move there’s a counter. Nor is it unlikely that a sufficiently large mass of 4th Generation technology couldn’t sneak someone in unexpectedly. But people who conjure images of twenty or thirty low tech planes sacrificing themselves to maybe get one fox into the hen house are, I think, discounting the moral effect of seeing 18 or 20 of your best buds go down in flames around you from a threat you haven’t even seen on radar yet.
That kind of thing can shake a man’s will.
Critics also point out that the F-22 in its current instantiation doesn’t have an organic air-to-ground capability and most of our current work in fighters involves moving mud. It’s a fair cop, but in the meantime we’re not going short for TACAIR sorties, the F-35 is on the way as a level-of-effort replacement for the F-16 and we won’t be developing a robust, all-aspect stealth, supercruising fighter on the fly once a peer competitor – or even someone hoping for local numerical superiority and interior lines of battle – decides that the odds are on his side. A high low mix is not a bad way to go, and just as the F-15/F-16 combination worked well for the USAF – even while engendering the kind of passionate rivalries the “fighter mafia” seems to still wear on their sleeves – so should an F-22/F-35 force be effective in the future.
We may not need the Raptor’s capabilities right now, but with the long lead times associated with aircraft builds it’s nice to know that we’ll have them if we need them 5 years from now.
Time, tide and technology waits for no one – best to keep marching with them.