Procurement Blues

Got word earlier today from Will Collier that the President had, indeed, cancelled the purchase of 20 “extra” F-22A Raptors. Twenty fighters might not sound like a lot, but out of a force of only 187 planes, they could make a real difference.

Pretty Raptors All in a RowThat difference is even more real when you consider that 187 Raptors are to replace 483 F-15C Eagles — a reduction-in-force of over 60%, coming quick on the heels of a nearly 50% RIF throughout the ’90s. Shortly, those 187 planes will be our only manned air supremacy fighters. They’ll also likely be our last manned jets, and expected to operate for 20 years or longer. Talk about so many owing so much to so few.

But the Raptors aren’t the only program facing cuts:

Mr. Gates announced cuts in missile defense programs, in the Army’s expensive Future Combat Systems and in Navy shipbuilding operations.

But he proposed, as he has before, spending an extra $11 billion to finish enlarging the Army and the Marine Corps and to halt reductions in the Air Force and the Navy. He also announced an extra $2 billion for intelligence and surveillance equipment, including more spending on special forcers units and 50 new Predator and Reaper drones, the unmanned vehicles that are currently used in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq for strikes against militants.

More broadly, Mr. Gates signaled that he hopes to impose a new culture on the Pentagon, particularly the way it chooses and buys weapons.

Overall, the new priorities look about right, especially given Washington’s newfound parsimony*. But if the Air Force has too few planes for the future, don’t even think about how small the Navy is. We need to up the money we’re spending on “smart ships,” and quickly, so that fewer sailors can man a bigger navy. We simply don’t have enough ships to put to sea, and that situation is going to get worse before it gets better.

*If my tongue were any further in my cheek, I could lick my earlobe.