Archive for the ‘F-22’ Category

There are way too many zeros being tossed about…

From the 10 July 2009 Washington Post regarding the F-22 cancellation:

After deciding to cancel the program, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates called the $65 billion fleet a “niche silver-bullet solution” to a major aerial war threat that remains distant.

187 F-22s for $65 billion.  Cost per unit about $348 million each.

Here’s what DoD Buzz says about the F-35 as of 1 June 2010:

The price tag of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the military’s largest weapons program, has jumped once again and is now projected to cost $382 billion.

At 2443 planes, that’s a bit over $156 million each, and not the $112 million listed in the headline.  I guess the F-35 the non-niche, lead-bullet solution? Is it possible to make shipbuilding and space look like a bargain?

So if flying hour costs are about the same and assuming the F-22 is twice as capable (however that might be defined) as an F-35, it’s pretty much a wash, right?

Still, once flying hour costs are figured in, is is possible these planes will bankrupt the Air Force?

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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.

R. Jeffrey Smith’s WaPo article has so much that should be discussed. Here are a few things that come to mind:

  • F-22 maintenance costs per flying hour are about 150% of the F-15. Ok, but is the F-22 twice again as good? That is, if we only need half as many F-22s, that would make it a bargain, right?
  • Most importantly, will the plane’s massive cost preempt most other USAF modernization, driving the Air Force towards long-term obsolescence? Will this create what former Pentagon tester Thomas Christie characterises as “unilateral disarmament”?
  • The prime, Lockheed, farmed out over 1,000 subcontracts to vendors in more than 40 states. Everyone can feed at the F-22 trough and cancellation becomes much more difficult.
  • Former OSD Comptroller John Hamre says the F-22 program was approved despite the fact it was underfunded. Telling Congress what the real costs were would have been politically unpalatable.
  • One unnamed DoD official says its a disgrace the F-22 can only fly 1.7 hours on average before it has a critical failure. I’m thinking that official is one of the folks who supports capping the program at 187 planes.

In many ways the F-22 is emblematic of almost all our space systems. It has the characteristics of an exquisite system that make it difficult to design, engineer, build, and employ.