In Defense of the F-22

Depending on who you listen to, the F-22 is either a boondoggle, or the key to America’s air superiority in the coming century. One thing that’s interesting to note, though, is that Israel, Japan and Australia would all love to get their hands on it, but can’t due to the U.S. export ban on the aircraft. (Okay, there’s a bit of sticker shock, too.)

One of the big arguments against expanding orders for the F-22, besides the fact that we’re kind of hard up for cash these days, is that it plays no counterinsurgency role. My hunch, though, is that the current defense procurement debate — which boils down to “Do we need it in Iraq and Afghanistan?” — is going to seem pretty dated two years from now, when the withdrawal from Iraq is in its final stages and, I’m willing to wager, the withdrawal from Afghanistan has already begun.

Not to be naive about defense contracts, and runaway defense spending in general. Nor to buy into the ways in which Russian and Chinese expenditures are used to drum up alarm, which are misleading. Russia, like India, has fundamental weaknesses in its defense modernization program and China’s buildup is consistent with a deterrent (i.e., defensive) capacity. Regardless, the cost threshhold is already too high to entertain the notion of conflict with either Russia or China.

But part of what keeps it high on our end is our commitment to weapons systems like the F-22, which maintain our conventional dominance. So while we don’t need as many as the Air Force brass is now trying to gin up as “economic stimulus,” we will have to move past the F-15s and F-16s that make up the bulk of our fleet now. As far as alternatives, the F-22 is what we have, and it’s what the rest of the world wants.

Besides, it’s bad enough that the American car industry is about to go under. The least we can do is hold onto our aircraft industry.

More World Politics Review