October 17, 2018

Hurricane Michael Demonstrates the Need for More F-22 Raptors

No F-22s were lost to the hurricane, but the storm illustrates why more planes are needed.

When we talked about the Air Force’s plan to add 74 more squadrons, we mentioned it was merely a good start. Hurricane Michael has placed an exclamation point on why the plans should be scaled up even more.

According to the Air Force Times, a number of F-22 Raptors were left behind in the storm due to maintenance issues. That’s right — they lacked parts necessary to be operational. Initial reports claimed as many as 17 of these fifth-generation air-dominance fighters may have been destroyed or damaged. Keep in mind, only 187 of these planes were built before the Obama administration — with political cover from the late John McCain — halted further production. And only 80 are “mission capable.”

Thankfully, no Raptors were destroyed, but it’s uncertain when they’ll be airworthy again. This was a close call. The United States Air Force only has 183 airframes on hand (four F-22s have already been lost in crashes). By comparison, there are still 249 F-15C Eagles, the plane the F-22 was supposed to replace, in the Air Force inventory. Those Eagles are not getting any younger, and Russia and China are building and have deployed a lot of Su-27/30/33/35 and J-11/J-15/J-16 Flankers.

In short, our warning about the risks of having too few planes in the air and hulls in the water is illustrated in this situation. If the United States had bought 381 F-22s, as the Air Force had been calling for as late as 2009, this would have still been serious (17 planes is close to a full squadron), but it would not be potentially crippling.

The low production total already handcuffs the United States. In order to say with a straight face that the figure of 187 Raptors were sufficient for our military requirements, the Obama administration simply lowered a standard. It stated America would only have to fight one major regional conflict as opposed to two. Translation: If Russia gets aggressive in Europe, and China gets aggressive in the South China Sea, then the United States gets to decide which allies it leaves hanging — NATO in Europe, or the Philippines and other Pacific allies.

Restarting F-22 production to add 100 or 200 new planes is not just going to benefit American security, it will also benefit the economy. The fact is, defense procurement creates a lot of jobs, many of which are in the manufacturing sector. Maintaining an industrial base for our national defense is of crucial importance. This was why Trump’s steel and aluminum tariffs are so important. We wouldn’t want to rely on China for our steel, would we?

But maintaining that industrial base is just part of the solution. Restarting the F-22 production line and building the F-35 would give America plenty of options should there be situations like Hurricane Michael or the recent crash that resulted in 20% of the F-35 fleet grounded. The more planes America has in inventory, the less likely an event like Michael can cripple our military. Given the billions of dollars it would cost just to restart the line, it’s unlikely to happen. That doesn’t mean it’s still not the right answer.

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