Wednesday, March 3, 2010
Worth 150 million Dollars?
Recently the media has tried to convey the large sums of money "wasted" on the F-22A Raptor. Political cartoonists have shown the government throwing piles of money on the Raptor. Why? Well it turns out that the government has reason to do so.
The F-22A is the finest air superiority platform ever built. It has the smallest radar cross section of any fighter aircraft in the world (.0001-.0002m^2). It has supermaneuverability, internal weapon bays, AESA radar, F-119 engines capable of supercrusise at mach 1.8 and full after burner at mach 2.25, it is thermally shielded against heat seeking missiles, and will soon feature an H.M.D by 2011. In combat simulations Raptor pilots fight 5 or more F-15C's, the current air to air fighter of the USAF, on a regular basis. During the Red Flag training exercise the Raptors preformed brilliantly. There is no doubt that the raptor is the best air superiority fighter ever built. However, how practical is it to have F-22s?
Fighter aircraft have become more and more expensive throughout the decades. Back in Vietnam the F-4 Phantoms costed 2.4 million dollars. The F-15 which succeeded the Phantom costed 29 million dollars. And the raptor 1 million dollars. The main concern is even the U.S cannot afford to pay for 700 F-22 raptors (originally planed). Currently, the plan is to build a total of 187 F-22As. The USAF protested Congresses decision to eliminate the Raptor program. The USAF argues that if it was able to maintain 300 raptors it could provide air supremacy over the continental United States. RAND, a prominent think tank, issued a report to Congress about restarting F-22A production. Should Congress reverse its decision, RAND calculated the cost of restarting Raptor production and building 75 Raptors would make the fly away cost of each Raptor 225 million. (150 million before production stops) Honestly If Congress had the guts to keep the Raptor program going costs would have continued to drop as mass production ensued.
However the most important contribution of the F-22 was the technology used in the F-35 its cheaper more cost effective cousin, was refined on the F-22. The F-22 allowed for the progression of new technology. The F-35 features a more durable cheaper radar absorbing coating and the same platform alignment stealth features of the F-22. So in the end Raptor was an important project as it allowed for the more practical cheaper F-35 to be produced. However, by no means is the JSF equal to the Raptor as a dogfighter. History will tell if the F-35 can stand up against future 5th generation threats. Betting that the JSF will be able to establish air superiority for the next 30 years is somewhat of a risk. The F-22A is a much safer choice. The Raptor uses the very best American technology and its design features no compromises. The F-22A was built from the ground up to be the very best air superiority fighter possible.
In conclusion, I believe Congress should have diverted additional funds for Raptor production even if it means taking the funding from the JSF. Congress should have given the USAF their 300 Raptors. These Raptors would provide a safe guard against future 5th generation threats from Russia and China. Additionally, the F-22A would be given the role of penetrating enemy airspace and taking out radar stations so the less stealthy F-35 could go on through with reduced risk. The American F-35 is stealthy enough to penetrate CURRENT radar systems. In terms of long term viability, the F-22 is once again the safer choice; it has an rcs 10 to 15 times smaller than the JSF. But in the end, 187 Raptors is a formidable force. I do think the JSF will be able to handle most threats the United States will face for the next 3 decades. I just think its better to have some kind of insurance.