A Jet Even the Military Doesn’t Want

The F-22 isn't useful in Afghanistan or Iraq. Why would Congress order more?

The F-22 isn't useful in Afghanistan or Iraq. Why would Congress order more? Lawrence Korb and Krisila Benson in the Philadelphia Inquirer.

 (AP/J. Scott Applewhite)
(AP/J. Scott Applewhite)

Congress decided to end production of the costly F-22 Raptor fighter jet at 187 planes after a debate on the 2009 supplemental war budget last month. But the very next day, the House Armed Services Committee stripped $369 million for environmental cleanup from the fiscal 2010 budget to fund an additional 12 F-22s. The Senate Armed Services Committee went a step further, providing $1.75 billion for seven more F-22s without clearly identifying the source of funds.

The F-22 costs nearly $150 million per plane – twice what was projected at the outset of the program. Factoring in development costs, the price tag increases to about $350 million per plane for the current fleet of 187.

It may look as if the House Armed Services Committee has added "only" $369 million. But given that it would provide funds for 12 additional F-22s, each with a price tag of $150 million (excluding development costs), the real cost to American taxpayers would be about $2 billion.

The F-22 is the most capable air-to-air fighter in the Air Force inventory. Yet it has only limited air-to-ground attack capabilities, which makes it unsuitable for today’s counter-insurgency operations. In fact, the F-22 has never been used in either Iraq or Afghanistan. It was designed to fight next-generation Soviet fighters that never materialized, and, as Defense Secretary Robert Gates has noted, it is nearly useless for irregular warfare.

The F-22 has no known enemy. It is the most advanced fighter plane in the world, and there are no other planes that could threaten its supremacy in air-to-air combat. The United States already has 187 F-22s on hand or on order – a silver-bullet force that is more than adequate to deal with any likely contingency. In fact, Gates said that even if he had $50 billion more to spend, he would not buy any more F-22s.

The Air Force leadership itself no longer supports continued production of the F-22. Air Force Secretary Michael Donley and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz have publicly said they would prefer to move on. The plane is not in the Defense Department’s proposed budget for fiscal 2010 (which begins in October). It’s not even on the Air Force’s list of unfunded requests, which consists of items excluded from the budget for which it would nevertheless like funding – a wish list of sorts.

Why are congressional committees willing to override the military and civilian leadership of the Pentagon on the F-22? The latest in a string of arguments offered by proponents in Congress is the need to protect our industrial base – as if our technical capacity to develop and produce fighter planes is in immediate, grave danger. This argument overlooks the fact that the Obama administration’s fiscal 2010 budget includes 28 F-35 Joint Strike Fighters – planes better suited for air-to-ground combat.

Moreover, as has been noted by the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, the era of producing manned aircraft is coming to an end. Mullen correctly points out that there will be a shift toward unmanned aircraft.

The F-22 is not an isolated case of unnecessary congressional equipment purchases. Congress has added $2.7 billion to the 2009 supplemental budget to buy more C-17 and C-130 aircraft – planes neither requested nor needed by the Defense Department. It also added $600 million to the 2010 budget for an unneeded alternate engine for the F-35, which will mean buying 50 fewer aircraft.

An administration policy statement issued on June 24 said the president’s senior advisers would recommend a veto of a bill containing funding for more F-22s. If the entire Congress approves either of the armed services committees’ recommendations on the F-22, President Obama should indeed veto the bill. Only then will Congress get the message that in this era of exploding national debt, we cannot waste billions on unnecessary military equipment.

Read more from Business Leaders for Sensible Priorities.

The positions of American Progress, and our policy experts, are independent, and the findings and conclusions presented are those of American Progress alone. A full list of supporters is available here. American Progress would like to acknowledge the many generous supporters who make our work possible.