I admit I’ve never been a huge fan of the F-22 Raptor. Not because it isn’t an impressive aircraft — it is –but because I felt that we didn’t need two new manned fighter aircraft. The F-35 Lightning II is also in the pipeline and it will be not only cheaper but more widely used, with not only the air force but also the navy and marine corps and American allies planning to buy it. But to say that we might have been better off not building the F-22 is not to say that we should now cancel it amid an economic downturn in which policymakers are desperate to keep workers working.
The F-22’s prime contractor, Lockheed Martin, points out that “the program is responsible for about 95,000 jobs at 1,000 suppliers.” That is a strong argument for deciding to buy 20 more F-22’s on top of the 183 already planned, as the Air Force wants, rather than cancelling the program and saving $523 million, as administration budgeteers and Congressional Democrats seem to want to do.
I’d rather have money spent on fighter aircraft to make the world a safer place than on some of the stuff that is currently in the stimulus package. As the Financial Times notes, “[c]ondoms, honey bee insurance, ice-breaking polar ships — think of a boon-doggle and the almost $900bn US fiscal stimulus package appears to have it.” (I might exclude ice-breakers from the list of boondoggles but there are plenty of other examples to choose from.) The article goes on to note that “the projects singled out for criticism account for only $3bn to $5bn of the bill,” but that’s still more than the cost of the additional F-22s.