The New York Times ran a gleeful obituary for the F-22 today in which Congress was commended for allowing President Obama and Secretary Gates to end production of the fighter at 187 frames—even though the military requirement is for 243 of these fifth-generation fighters. The Times applauds President Obama for his staunch fiscal conservatism on matters of national security and his commitment to only “spend precious tax dollars on essential equipment,” not “glitzy, self-indulgent toys.”
However, the editorial fails to mention even once the rapidly deteriorating condition and graying age of our fighter force today or the impending shortfall in American fighter fleets (detailed in a recent Heritage paper). This decision will only further erode the U.S. Air Force that has ensured the safety of American ground forces against enemy air power for the past 60 years. According to the military leaders, there will be a fighter gap of over 800 fighters by 2024 for the Air Force and 125 for the Navy. But the Times even criticizes the Senate’s decision to fund a whopping nine extra F/A-18s for the Navy, even though the average service life of the F-18 has been extended from its original limit of 6,000 to 10,000 flight hours. Extending hours can prove dangerous. In 2007, the Air Force grounded over 300 aged F-15s after one of them “broke in half” during a training mission in St. Louis, Missouri.
The truth is that artificial budgetary restraints—not national security needs—determined the fate of the F-22. According to the Air Force’s top leadership, General Norton Schwartz and Secretary Michael Donley, a “zero-sum game” has been imposed on an Air Force operating with a “fixed” defense budget such that “buying more F-22s means doing less of something else.” Game over.
For the moment, the United States seems committed to stripping itself of its six-decade record of unrivaled air dominance, content to field aging aircraft 20, 30, and in some cases 40 years old—planes our pilots’ grandfathers could have flown in the Cold War. And it appears The New York Times couldn’t be happier.