The Senate is about to vote on an amendment to spend $1.75 billion to buy seven more F-22 Raptors–rather than shut down the production line and cap production at 187 aircraft, as the Obama administration proposes. This is a difficult issue that has split normal allies such as Joe Lieberman (who is for the F-22) and John McCain (against it).
As I’ve said before, I’m ambivalent. On the one hand, I am sympathetic to the case made by Secretary of Defense Bob Gates — and endorsed by the Air Force leadership — that we don’t need more F-22s given that we are planning to purchase large numbers of F-35s that will give us the next-generation fighter capability that we need. The F-22 is a more capable aircraft but the F-35 is still better than what any other air force in the world has.
On the other hand, the case for shutting down a production line and throwing 25,000 workers out of a job is a hard one to make while we are still mired in a recession and spending hundreds of billions of dollars to create jobs elsewhere. Buying more F-22s is a more useful way to stimulate the economy than a lot of domestic boondoggles.
So where do I come out on this? If Congress were willing to add $1.75 billion to the defense budget for more F-22s, I would be in favor of the proposal. But as things stand now, the supporters of the F-22 aren’t planning to add enough funds to the budget to buy the planes they want. The funding will have to come out of other defense programs, many of which are of much greater relevance to the threats we face today than the futuristic F-22, which don’t have a role in Afghanistan or Iraq. Therefore, I’m siding with opponents of the F-22 at least for the time being.
But perhaps a compromise could still be negotiated: keep the production line open but don’t buy any more aircraft for the U.S. Air Force. Instead, sell them to close allies such as Japan and Australia. Currently, that’s forbidden by our export restrictions but this is a proposal that can keep Lockheed Martin’s employees on the job while also upgrading the capabilities of some of our closest allies.