It Boils Down to Credibility

Last month, Lockheed Martin CEO Robert Stevens took flak for saying the F-22 might serve as a substitute for nuclear weapons in deterring aggression. But, defense pundit Loren Thompson says he sides with Stevens. In an issue brief from the Lexington Institute Jan. 6, Thompson writes that Stevens’ “was probably right for one simple reason: credibility.” No one really believes that the US would use its nuclear arsenal unless national survival is at stake. But an instrument like the F-22, he writes “fits comfortably” within the framework of having a credible deterrent posture to respond to a full spectrum of threats from conventional to nuclear. With the superior capabilities of the F-22, it can establish air dominance, thereby leaving adversaries “naked to the other instruments of US military power.” And, the F-22 can do secondary missions like missile defense, network attack, and intelligence-reconnaissance-surveillance. “But what really makes it a powerful deterrent—unlike nuclear weapons in most cases—is that enemies know we won’t hesitate to use it,” writes Thompson. He continues, “That has to influence how potential aggressors weigh their options.” We still don’t know if such rationale will deter—pardon the pun—President-elect Obama from shutting down the F-22 production line, thereby allowing the Air Force to buy more of the stealth fighters, perhaps 60 or so additional airframes.