Stealth Logic or the Latest Tactic

Upgrading the Air Force’s existing inventory of F-22s is more important than procuring additional aircraft beyond 183, the current program of record, John Young, the Pentagon’s chief weapons buyer, said March 11 on Capitol Hill. “Current Air Force plans do not upgrade 100 early F-22s to the most capable Block 35 configuration,” Young told a joint session of the House Armed Services air and land forces and seapower and expeditionary forces panels. “Upgrading F-22s that DOD has already purchased should be considered ahead of any other F-22 options.” The Block 35 is currently the most capable F-22 configuration on the Air Force’s roadmap. Young said 183 Raptors, plus four more that DOD plans to ask for in a Fiscal 2009 supplemental spending request, are “adequate” to meet the National Military Strategy, based on threat assessments that do not project “multiple high-end peers” out to 2025. Echoing Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England, whose anti-F-22 sentiment is well known, Young asserted, “It is critical for the Defense Department to move forward to the next generation of supportable and highly capable fighter aircraft, the Joint Strike Fighter,” referencing the F-35. Both the F-22 and F-35 are very capable fifth generation fighters, Young said, noting that they have “fewer distinguishing features than people offer.” While the Pentagon’s civilian leadership has been making the case that the two aircraft are essentially interchangeable, the Air Force maintains that they are complementary but that each has a distinctly different and necessary mission akin to today’s fleet mix of F-15s and F-16s.