Since When?

Defense Secretary Robert Gates on Wednesday called the F-22 “in effect, a niche, silver-bullet solution required for a limited number of scenarios.” Speaking to an audience at Air University on the grounds of Maxwell AFB, Ala., Gates acknowledged that “the F-22 has unique capabilities” to penetrate and defeat enemy air defenses and advanced fighters, but he still maintains that a fleet of 187 F-22s, when factored with plentiful F-35s and unmanned strike aircraft like the MQ-9 Reaper, are sufficient to meet projected threats and demonstrate “a serious commitment to maintaining US air supremacy.” Our question: Since when is a capability to provide air superiority—or wrestle it from an adversary in contested airspace—regarded as a niche capability? We consider air superiority the underpinning of successful US combat operations. Why would one risk forfeiting that asymmetric advantage to a potential adversary? (Full transcript of Gates’ comments)