Everyone Who Wanted More F-22s Is Being Proven Right
By the mid 2000s, the F-22 was finally entering the fray as the world’s first true stealth fighter, offering a quantum leap in capability and performance when compared with anything else on the battlefield. It was a thoroughbred weapon system meant to shape the battlefield by vanquishing anything in the skies and neutering enemy air defenses, so that less capable combat aircraft could survive over the battle space. It was a high-end door kicker, the ultimate “anti-access” fighter.
At the same time that the Raptor was coming online and proving itself, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, of both the Bush and Obama Administrations, was calling for the F-22’s demise. This was said to be due to the aircraft cost and use as “only” an air-to-air, destruction of enemy air defense, and deep strike platform. Considering that the minimum the Air Force said they could operate with was 243, this statement seems less than true. And that number was last ditch compromise, the real bottom-line fleet size the USAF required of the F-22 was around 339 jets, which itself was dropped drastically from the original number of around 750 jets originally envisioned. At 339 examples it was hoped that the F-15C/D force could have been retired.
Yet Gates was not alone in the push to cancel the F-22. The Bush administration was guilty of it too, although they were able to punt the final decision to the Obama administration, who demanded it be cancelled with a sharp veto threat.
Key Congressional figures like Senator John McCain also wanted the Raptor line shutdown. Their justifications ranged from the program’s expense, which was largely sunk costs for research and development over the aircraft’s 30-year gestation period, to statements proclaiming that China would not unveil a stealth fighter until late in the next decade, with no chance of it being operational until the mid to late 2020s. Today, China has two stealth fighters flying, the first one, the J-20, getting airborne well before the last F-22 even left the production floor. The timing of the J-20’s first flight also occurred while Secretary Gates was in Beijing meeting with top-level government officials. The event was a well planned propaganda affair that aimed to make Gates look bad for underestimating Chinese technological capabilities.