Cancelling the F-22 Raptor, the most capable fighter plane ever produced, is yet another act in the tragedy of a nation that, bankrupting itself, embracing moral decline, and apologizing to its enemies, is losing the will to prevail. In pursuit of false prosperities, America for three presidencies and an entire generation has diminished its arsenals, unbalanced its military, and forgotten its genius for strategy.
The campaigns in the Middle East have been like a knife cutting through water, leaving behind the ineluctable infill of countries as divided, unstable, and hostile to our interests as on the day we decided to remake them in our image. Nonetheless, we have recalibrated the armed forces to deal with perhaps a division's worth of fluid irregulars worldwide, thus granting China, Russia, and Iran military holidays in which to redirect the balance of power.
Suppressing terrorism should not come at the expense of conventional forces but rather as a necessary and additional obligation to be accomplished with the left hand as the right is made stronger. The penalty for avoiding this will be Chinese military parity, Russia again a threat to Europe, a nuclear-armed Iran, and one country after another free to invade its neighbors, massacre its peoples, or launch pirates upon the sea.
Amid such static one thing stands out. As we rapidly disarm, China is just as rapidly arming. Perhaps because Americans do not play much chess we seem not to understand that a nation can be defeated without war, that after failing in the art of balance and maneuver the king may still stand, but motionlessly in check, "soft power" notwithstanding. "Soft power" in the absence of hard power is like flesh without a skeleton.
With self-destructive enthusiasm disguised as reasonableness, we now court costs of a future war (or defeat by maneuver) far greater than those of preparation or deterrence—in this economy or any other. Despite the Pacific interface with China, our fleet is smaller than at any time since 1916, and potentially halved due to China's physical control of the Panama Canal. The second President Bush built fewer ships than even his feckless predecessor. In abandoning effective missile defense and decimating the nuclear arsenal, we invite proliferation among the minor players, and, after half a century, are making a first strike by the major ones feasible once again. This year, the Air Force will keep 150 fighters in all of Europe, as at one time, while it declined but before it burned, Rome kept only a shadow of legions upon the Rhine and Danube.
In the very long list of such things is the F-22. Its stealth, speed, agility, and advanced sensors are such that in a 2006 exercise against F-15s, F-16s, and F-18s, the F-22, its pilots scarcely accustomed to it, scored 241 kills to 2. Famously, before its opponents know it's there, their aircraft are exploding. Former USAF Lt. Colonel Joseph Sussingham, F-16 Experimental Command Pilot, put it best: "To face a flight of F-22s is to face a wall of death."
The average age of air force fighter planes more than doubled from 1960 to 1990 and is fast increasing. As the number of combat wings was nearly halved, and the U-2 and F-117 were eliminated in its anticipation, the F-22 became the keystone of American air power. With no new fighter on the horizon other than the F-35, it was as well a guarantee against placing every egg in one basket.
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The original F-22 requirement of 750 aircraft has fared poorly over past administrations: George H.W. Bush, 680; Bill Clinton's first term, 442; Clinton's second, 339; George W. Bush's first term, 381; Bush's second, 183. President Obama inherited 186 as a result of Congressional insistence, and the production lines are now to be dismantled. The death of the Raptor is encompassed in the statement of the air force chief of staff, with what irony one can imagine, that "[t]he Department of Defense provided guidance…to eliminate excessive overmatch in our tactical fighter force." In a triumph of international cooperation, China, which will field its own fifth-generation fighter in 2018 or 2020, is eager to help us eliminate excessive overmatch, as are Russia and even India.
We scrapped the F-22 in favor of a single strike fighter (in three variants) for all the services, the F-35, which despite major technical problems is scandalously slated to go into production before it is fully tested. A lesser airplane, it has neither the speed, range, nor electronic capabilities of the F-22. Who needs speed? With munitions spent amidst a swarm of enemy fighters, speed allows the survival of aircraft and pilot. And the F-22's other characteristics superior to the F-35's mean that when its munitions are spent there may not even be a swarm of enemy fighters.
We have thrown away our best aircraft, as we have—directly or by attrition—discarded good ships, armor, and fighting echelons. We have closed production lines, dispersed the skilled people who run them, and weakened the defense industrial base to the point that in a national emergency it cannot revive. Even the late Senator Kennedy, hardly a hawk, called the death of the F-22 "ill-advised and premature."
Given that the administration and Congress throw panicked trillions at programs thought up on the spur of the moment, their parsimony in defense of the United States is unjustifiable, even if our brilliant elites simply refuse to contrast the supposed savings to the costs of future wars that otherwise might be prevented. Though the price may be steep for the times, the price of war undeterred, should it be lost or even should it be won, will perhaps be unbearable.
And because it is a price not only in dollars but in the life of a nation and the blood of its sons and daughters, it is necessary to speak without embarrassment for the defense of the United States and for the rightful preparation to deter war or to win it.