F-22: “Rapture” on the Ropes

Controversy continues to engulf the little jet that could.

In a move designed to pressure the new commander in chief, 194 House lawmakers signed a letter to the president reminding him of a looming March 1 deadline for him to “certify” that the continued production of the F-22 Raptor (we prefer “Rapture”) is in the nation’s interest. Forty-four senators penned a similar note.

Lawmakers admit this is as much about jobs as defense. It is feared layoffs at companies with a hand in building the F-22 and its associated systems could begin March 2. Projected numbers range from and 25,000 to as many 70,000 jobs, though these are probably worst-case estimates for shock value.

The F-22 with its inherent hand-wringing dates to 1981 when the Air Force declared, “We need a super fighter.” By 1986, Team Lockheed Martin Corp. was vying for production rights against Team Northrop Grumman. In 1991. Lockheed’s YF-22 was chosen, and more than 700 planes were to be ordered. That number was slashed to 340 and further cut to 207 in 2003 because of a reported cost cap. By 2006, the number was a sputtering 183 birds.

But wait, there’s more! In 2006, the GAO weighed in reporting the monetary cost for the F-22 had ballooned to $361 million per aircraft (making the Navy’s littoral combat ship a bargain at its bloated $550 million per ship.) “Rapture” proponents insist the GAO figure is wildly skewed. Negate those long and costly 20 years in development and the cost per bird drops to $140 million.

The F-22 boasts the most advanced stealth capability, the latest in sensors and radars, and can cruise above Mach-1 without the afterburner kick and a reported superior battle record when matched against other U.S. fighters. Despite a continued ban on foreign military sales, allies clamor for a piece of the action — whatever the cost.

Those opposed to further procurement have highlighted that the F-22 has not had a role in Iraq and Afghanistan. Interesting. “Rumor” has it the Navy is opposed to “Rapture” and has worked to block its deployment. (Slick move, but our naval aviator source speculates, “This is a version of the old Air Force claim ‘the U.S. doesn’t need any carriers’ because they [the Air Force] can do everything for less money with long-range strike. If the Air Force is attempting to replace an in-theater carrier with F-22s, I can understand the Navy’s resistance.”)

Defense as stimulus? Defense Secretary (and occasional Superhero) Robert M. Gates had deferred any decision from DoD to the new administration. Gates has revealed that, yes, he is aware he pretty much deferred to himself in his old-new role as defense secretary (and still occasional superhero).

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