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Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona told NBC’s Meet the Press that we should consider completely canceling the F/A-22 program to free up money for more troops in Iraq. But McCain assumes defense spending is a zero-sum game. It’s not.
In 1960, with no U.S. involvement in a hot war, the percentage of GDP spent on defense was 9.3. This year, with wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and anti-terrorist military activities around the world, we’re spending a miserly 3.5 percent. Merely splitting the difference between 1960 and now would allow the Army to expand from 10 divisions to 12 and supply the Air Force with more F/A-22s than it would know what to do with. And yet last summer Democratic Sen. Robert Byrd of West Virginia offered an amendment to seize $1.1 billion from the Defense Budget and use it for AIDS/HIV spending.
Other armchair air experts say we can skip the F/A-22 (other than the 22 already procured) while awaiting the cheaper F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. The F-35 is a fine plane and will be great for exporting to our allies, but it’s far inferior to the F-22, especially in the stealth category. (Its advantage is a much lower price.) F-35 development is also three years behind that of the Raptor. If you needed a top-of-the-line new car immediately, would you hold off three years on buying that BMW until Honda Civics become available?
It’s also true that F/A-22s were unneeded in invading Iraq — though one of our F-117s was shot down over Serbia. The value of the F-22 in the current guerrilla war? Zero. But you know that expression about generals “planning to fight the last war”? Here it’s the F/A-22 critics like O’Hanlon who remind us that during Desert Storm “The Air Force’s premier fighter, the F-15C, flew 6,000 missions without a single loss.” Yes, and that was 13 years ago. Any war against North Korea or China would make heavy use of the Raptor.
A WASHINGTON POST ANALYSIS piece that ripped the F/A-22 was reprinted on websites of such groups as Environmentalists Against War and Million Worker March. The Post claimed the plane’s “role is now more ambiguous because no country is developing an aircraft with anything near its capabilities.”
But isn’t that exactly what we want: Quick and complete air domination? If price is the primary consideration, why not scrap both the F-22 and the F-35 and start rebuilding the P-51s of World War II, which cost only $54,000 in 1943 dollars? Like the F-15, they were marvelous planes in their time.
Why not? Because our potential enemies will be flying the best jets and antiaircraft missiles they can make or buy, allowing them to intimidate us in peacetime and defeat us in war. We must beat their capabilities, or we will surely die trying.
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Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
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