The Raptor Numbers Game

Panelists at the Center for National Policy’s F-22 forum yesterday in Washington, D.C., tackled the question of whether 187 Raptors are really enough as the Defense Secretary Robert Gates espouses and current Air Force leaders say they support. Author and national security correspondent Mark Bowden said the US will likely still be able to achieve air superiority in a conflict, but at a higher cost as the technology gap slowly closes. Barry Watts, a senior fellow with the Center for Security and Budgetary Assessments, said the 187 number is too low in most scenarios gamed out by the RAND Corporation and others. In his experience with force sizing, the Air Force would need about 230 or 240 airframes to equip two combat wings of 72 aircraft each and have enough left over for training, testing, and attrition. Watts noted that wargaming simulations have shown that the number of daily F-22 sorties possible in a Taiwan Straits conflict would plummet from 300 or 400 to below 200 if Kadena AB, Japan, were taken out. This would lead to air superiority battles where F-22s run out of missiles, and Chinese Flankers would be free to attack low-density/high-demand assets such as AWACS and tanker aircraft.