By March lst, Barack Obama will decide whether to spend $523 million on twenty or more F-22 fighter jets, beyond the 183 already allocated and planned for. We know what Congressional liberals will automatically say: We have to cut defense spending immediately. After all, our nation faces no real threats that require such massive expenditures, and in any case, one jet could finance hundreds of new schools. It is therefore time for our nation to make a choice: use our limited resources for our domestic needs and that of the suffering American people at home, or for the military-industrial complex.
That point has already been made by Barney Frank, on The Nation magazine website. He writes, somewhat facetiously, that he wishes there “was some way to make it a misdemeanor for people to talk about reducing the budget deficit without including a recommendation that we substantially cut military spending.” Frank is upset that even some centrists and liberals are talking about the need to curb entitlements like Social Security and Medicare that have a “social purpose,” when cutting the military budget instead would mean eliminating expenditures that “do more harm than good.”
His words say a great deal. In Frank’s eyes, voting for military expenditures like the F-22 obviously have no social purpose, and in fact, do great harm. I suspect Frank looks askance at such weapons, which as he acknowledges, he thinks are obsolete since we “have no conceivable enemy.” He sees the new generation of weapons being developed as also ones that never will have “any plausible use” and will not make us any safer from physical attack.
That is why Frank, as well as all of us, should read the remarkable article by Mark Bowden in the current issue of The Atlantic, as well as view the accompanying video. Bowden, the prize-winning author of Blackhawk Down, has the knack for being able to present complicated and serious technical issues in a riveting fashion, and thereby show readers why such a controversial airplane like the F-22 is one that deserves serious consideration for being funded.
Bowden acknowledges that a case exists against its production. At $350 million per aircraft, it is the most expensive fighter plane ever built. So why, one asks, should we produce it, when the older F-15 cost $178 million, and we have many in our arsenal? Bowden’s article provides the answers to this question. He writes: “Without a full complement of Raptors [the F-22] America’s aging fighters are more vulnerable, and hence more likely to be challenged.” Our potential opponents- Russia, China, Iran, North Korea etc- “will be more likely to take on the U.S. Air Force if their pilots face a fighting chance.” The result would be deadly old fashioned air battles, with many downed American pilots.
Bowden shows how the commanding edge American air power we once had with the F-15 plane is on the verge of disappearing, especially since foreign powers have bought old Russian jets and upgraded them to match the power and technology of our F-15 fleet. One pilot, explaining the difference in the aircraft, compared the F-15 to a first generation clunky personal computer, while the F-22 is akin to a 21st century top of the line personal computer designed from the bottom up and fully integrated. A sensor in the F-22 looks out everywhere in the aircraft, from front to side to back, giving the pilot a 360 degree picture of battle space around him.
So, while Barney Frank might be right that conventional weapons are useless against terrorists, Bowden writes that “doesn’t mean the old threats have disappeared.” Russia could move into the Baltic states, Iran is readying nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles, and North Korea is ignoring agreements it signed to stop building them, so that “the threat posed by belligerent nation-states is still real.” If we become more vulnerable in the air, Bowden warns, conflict with these nations “may well become more likely.” In other words, preparing ourselves with a new generation of invincible weapons is more likely to prevent actual conflict than bring it on.
There is yet one other reason for funding the F-22. That is the dire state of today’s economy and the recession we are now in. The general manager of the F-22 program at Lockheed Martin, its major contractor, has pointed out that the effort is responsible for 95,000 jobs at 1000 different suppliers. Bowden puts it this way: “a decision to save money and not build more would deliver a severe blow to a sprawling and vital U.S. industry at a time when the nation is mired in recession.” If we shut down the production line, he warns, it will be difficult to start it up again, even if a new distinct threat to our security emerges. The 1000 parts in each plane, moreover, are manufactured in 44 different states, and to assemble one aircraft takes three years.
I think the argument is solid. To fund the F-22 will preserve jobs, strengthen the economy, and protect our national security. It will be a real stimulus to the economy. Barney Frank and his liberal colleagues would do well to take another look at this issue.