Possible future growth in the F-22
program suffered what may well turn out to be a fatal blow
in the Senate yesterday. In a lopsided 58-40 vote, the Senate accepted an amendment which would cap the program at 187 airframes, the same number currently envisioned in the President’s FY2010 budget submission. Other efforts to plus the program up had been politically pursued–this is likely to end any program growth.
The F-22 follows the model established by the B-2
. The B-2 was first planned for a 132 airframe buy. By the time the last plane was delivered, there were only 20 in the USAF inventory.
Any discussion of the current status of the F-22 has to start with Secretary Gates
. As a holdover from the Bush administration, it is reasonable to assume he wanted the FY2010 defense budget to have his personal stamp on it, which included marking a “Cold War” program like the F-22. He almost certainly expected both a long leash and top cover from the current administration. Having Gates on the Obama team would in fact be useful in burnishing their defense resume, given the Secretary’s significant personal and professional credibility. In return, he would need to have the administration’s support for his positions. As such, having a true “Gates budget” was likely a condition of employment. Likewise, when the SecDef wanted a new Chief of Staff of the Air Force and a new Secretary of the Air Force, their support of the Defense Department’s emerging funding priorities was also likely a condition of employment. The Air Force seems to have read the writing on the wall as seen by the recently released UAV flight plan.
What does the Senate’s F-22 vote mean?
First, the administration picked a fight they knew they had an outstanding chance of winning.
Next, when the pushback was more vigorous than perhaps first imagined, they doubled down with a full-court press from every direction, including the JCS, Air Force leadership, and the media.
Finally, the President now owns the Afghanistan war, and he wants to shape it with resources more likely to bring success. Given the current state of that conflict and expected future movement, more UAVs will be the USAF’s contribution and F-22s would not have helped in that fight.