On Saturday, the New York Times criticized the Pentagon’s spending plans for buying, among other things, the F-22 stealth fighter, also known as the Raptor. According to the paper, that’s just concentrating on “the kind of weapons that might have made sense during the cold war but have little use in the kind of conflicts America is involved in and is likely to face in the foreseeable future.”
The Air Force acquired the F-22 to penetrate the Soviet Union and face its fleet of Su-27 fighters. The Times reasons that, because the USSR disappeared, so did our need for the Raptor. Even if the paper is correct—it’s not—there is one nation that indisputably requires the plane today. Japan at this moment is threatened by China’s growing fleet of Su-27s and has to replace aging F-4’s.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe raised the F-22 issue with President Bush during their summit this April. Japan would like to buy or build them under license from Lockheed Martin, the plane’s prime contractor. U.S. law prohibits the sale or license of America’s most capable fighter, and a recent attempt to end the ban failed earlier this year. Nonetheless, talk of Raptor sales just won’t go away.
Not only do the Japanese need to buy them, we have a compelling need to sell them. The Air Force has scaled back substantially its plans to acquire F-22’s, in part because of their cost—about $130 million per plane. The cutback not only threatens the Raptor program and jobs in Georgia, Texas, and California, but also undermines our industrial base. Selling F-22’s to Japan today preserves our capacity to build even more sophisticated fighters tomorrow.
Japan is just about the only suitable purchaser. Its wallet is large enough; it’s an ally that can be counted on to keep the plane’s secrets safe. We should arm allies that will fight on our side in the event of a large-scale conflict in Asia, which is increasingly likely, despite what the Times may think. America needs Raptors, and we need Japan to have them, too.