Nov. 1, 2009

The Heavyweight Raptor

In his editorial “Requiem for a Heavyweight” (September, p. 2), Editor in Chief Robert S. Dudney borrows his title from the 1956 play, but his theme is from Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar,” specifically Mark Antony’s speech with the famous line, “I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.” In that same speech, he goes on to call Caesar’s assassins “honourable men”—repeated in increasingly sarcastic tones that soon turn the crowd against the conspirators themselves.

“Completion” of the F-22 program in favor of a much larger F-35 program was no sudden decision, as Air Force Magazine articles have documented over the past six months. The “honourable men” opposing further F-22 production have included the defense community’s highest officials, plus members of our most influential mainstream media. Specifically:

The President called the F-22 “an inexcusable waste of money” while the US was “fighting two wars and facing a serious deficit,” and had threatened to veto any defense bill that included more of them. (After some turmoil in both chambers, the Congress’ response to the Administration’s ultimatum was to yield, as reported in September’s editorial.)

The Secretary of Defense deserves a “mention in despatches” for his masterly “preparation of the (political) battlefield.” He co-opted the F-22’s prime contractor, Lockheed Martin, [with] a “carrot-and-stick” offer: Cease lobbying for more F-22s and its much larger F-35 program may be accelerated; otherwise, [Lockheed Martin] may bear the consequences. He dismissed the F-22’s original requirement as obsolete, its capabilities as both irrelevant for our current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and excessive for any near-term threat—thus framing the issue as one of “acquisition reform” and politics and price over combat performance and pre-eminence.

Both the New York Times and the Washington Post published “hair on fire” editorials, but the most egregious article was the Post’s July 10 “Premier US Fighter Jet Has Major Shortcomings,” which combined outdated data and misleading impressions (by mostly anonymous sources) with a few simplified rebuttal quotes—presumably for “balance.” An AFA fact sheet, “F-22 Assertions and Facts,” updated and corrected the article’s (and others’) more outrageous claims, but the Post printed neither corrections nor any letters from its readership.

Thus, if past is prologue, the US will end up with fewer F-35s than planned, acquired at a slower rate, and costing significantly more apiece—just like the F-22. Also, the F-35’s “low end” combat performance envelope (in terms of speed and altitude capabilities) will remain well below that of the (now fewer) “high end” F-22’s, even as threats increase over its lifetime.

Col. Jonathan Myer,

USAF (Ret.)

Alexandria, Va.

The purpose of our defense spending since World War II has been to spend enough, smartly, on military equipment, so we don’t need to use it in a war. We spend to stay out of war.

The significance of the F-22 is that we have 187 air superiority fighters, which cost us $32 billion and 20 years to produce. Their existence means that before you attack the United States, you’d better have something to keep these 187 planes from shooting down your entire air force. Frankly, no nation in the world has the resources and knowledge to do this, so 187 F-22s are enough.

It will take a long time and a lot of money for some nation to develop military assets to enable it to trump these 187 F-22 Raptors, and if some nation decides to do so and to attack us, we will have lots of time to respond to their arms development and leapfrog whatever they build to shoot down Raptors. In this regard, “more” Raptors would be “outdated and unnecessary.”

Of course, an F-35 is inferior to an F-22, as is an F-16, an F-18, [and] every other plane on the planet. As long as other nations have equipment similar to the F-35, F-16, and F-18, our 187 F-22s are enough to deter a real war attack on the US.

Rather than mourning the end of F-22 production, I applaud our resolve and completion of such a great game-dictating weapon which will bring us peace from major attacks for decades.

Johnnie Crean

Kamuela, Hawaii

The New Playbook

In your recent article in the September 2009 issue of Air Force Magazine titled “The New Playbook” [p. 40], there is an error in paragraph 18 under the section titled “Directing the Flight.” The statement in error is “F-15 age-limited of Mach 1.5.”

Actually, as a result of an accident board investigation of a high-speed incident (about 2005), F-15C/D models had a temporary Mach 1.5 limit imposed on them until incorporation of a Time Compliance Technical Order, which inspected and repaired (if necessary) the tail structure of the aircraft.

All F-15s are in compliance with this TCTO and cleared for design max Mach number of Mach 2.5. Thank you for your attention to this detail.

Richard T. Banholzer,

St. Charles, Mo.

I enjoyed John Tirpak’s article on the playbook for the F-22. I think the analogy to the quarterback is a good one, as the F-22 will be the alpha male in manned air combat for years to come. There is still a missing piece, however, to the puzzle of how to get the most out of our aging and dwindling fighter force. That piece is fully upgrading and modernizing our current airborne C2 and battle management platform, the E-3 Sentry (AWACS).

If the F-22 is the quarterback, the AWACS is the offensive and defensive coordinator. The E-3 is the sine qua non of modern air combat, indispensable everywhere we employ airpower. It’s in the fight over Afghanistan, Iraq, in the Far East, the Caribbean, and even augments NORAD for homeland defense. But the E-3 fleet gets older and older, stretching 1960s technology to the limit. My son’s wristwatch has more computing power, and his PlayStation Portable has better graphics and memory.

By trying to make the F-22 so good that it can make up for what the AWACS cannot do, are we not approaching things the wrong way? We need to make AWACS better, so it can aid all our air assets. Make a fighter better, win the battle; make an AWACS better, make all the fighters better and win the war. An F-22 carries missiles and guns into the fight. The AWACS carries F-22s (and a lot of other aircraft) into the war.

While capable, the F-22 cannot do the job of the AWACS. In fact, it makes no sense for a shooter to try and orchestrate an air war.

We’ve gotten all the F-22s we’re going to get. Now let’s fix our C2-battle management. Step 1: Accelerate funding and implementation of the Block 40/45 computer upgrade for the E-3. Step 2: Develop a ground- or air-based alternative to the 707 for the next generation of C2-battle management that has improvements in airframe (if needed), sensors, and links. This investment will yield dividends that ripple across all the combat air forces for many years, will make the fighters we do have a match—and more—for the enemy’s best, and will give our quarterback a winning game plan far into the future.

Lt. Col. Geoffrey F. Weiss,

Tinker AFB, Okla.

Over There

My compliments to John T. Correll on his wonderful article on Gen. Billy Mitchell and the US Air Service in World War I [September, p. 64]. Correll really captured the struggle Mitchell and the Air Service faced not only from our late start in forming an air arm, but then in the actual fighting once we got “Over There.” As a pilot of a restored B-25 Mitchell bomber, my interest was piqued, and I read the story several times.

George A. Hulett

Woodland Hills, Calif.

Washington Watch

Thanks for your excellent article on Gen. John D. W. Corley, [then] commander of Air Combat Command, and his excellent written response to Congress that the end of the F-22 production line at 187 fighters “puts execution of our current national military strategy at high risk in the near- to mid-term” [“Washington Watch: Corley and the Culture Warriors,” August, p. 8]. As a rated USAF officer having worked on the F-15 Electronic Warfare (EW) air superiority program at Eglin AFB, Fla., I know and understand that the cutoff of the F-22 fighter at 187 aircraft spells doom for this program from the beginning. It should be obvious to any air advocate that 187 fighters of any type are unsustainable in the out-years and will quickly become a token force due to the inability to project the nation’s air superiority mission worldwide.

Lt. Col. Sid Howard,

USAF (Ret.)

Midwest City, Okla.

The Petraeus Joke

Army Gen. David H. Petraeus’ joke was a bowdlerization of a bowdlerization of a long-standing joke [“Air Force World: Petraeus’ ‘Joke’ Bombs With Airmen,” October, p. 12].

Give General Petraeus a break. This was humor. Everyone listening knew it. He hasn’t the slightest doubt of the importance of the contribution of the Air Force. Neither do those marines on the ground who need some well-placed ordnance. Since separate services existed, they have been making jokes about each other. Most of us recognize that the jokes are an oblique way of expressing or acknowledging appreciation, if only grudgingly. These jokes are also an acknowledgment of the differences between the services. The Air Force is not the Marines (thank heaven). I am proud of the Air Force. And the Army. And the Navy. Even the Marines. We can afford to laugh about our differences because when the chips are down, we put those differences aside, pull together, and get the job done.

Lighten up.

Jon R. Brenneman

Hallstead, Pa.

General Petraeus owes the United States Air Force an apology.

It’s inconceivable that a general in charge of a unified command would take a cheap shot at one of his components. General Petraeus owes an apology to the next of kin of all the young airmen killed on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan. They had their “boots on the ground,” and I would wager they didn’t have ponytails when they gave their lives for our country. I would hope that he realizes that USAF is a most valued resource and is part of his command.

CMSgt. Karl Hammerdorfer,

USAF (Ret.)

Woodbridge, Va.