Friday, March 12, 2010

The Grim Future of American Airpower?

F-35 Lightning II

The news is roiling an ongoing debate over the future of U.S. warplanes: The F-35 (developed under the Joint Strike Fighter program and still in development) is on one side. The F-22 Raptor, currently flying in the Air Force fleet, is on the other.

But why? These airplanes are built for different roles, and have different strengths. The Raptor is built to gain air superiority, while the Lightning II is being created primarily to provide close air support and conduct precision air strikes. But both are staggeringly expensive, and with the Obama administration looking at belt-tightening within the Pentagon, the two marquee warplanes have been dueling for funds. In April 2009 the Pentagon announced it was stopping F-22 production, and some quickly said that the cost overruns of the F-35 were crowding out the expensive Raptor, the world’s best radar evader and dogfighter.

Now that the F-22 is canceled (freezing the fleet at 186 airplanes), the F-35 program faces even more scrutiny. Aerospace analysts, press and the discussion-board community frequently ask why a superior airplane like the F-22 is being axed while the problematic F-35 limps along during development. Secretary of the Air Force Michael Donley said this week that the F-35 would not be ready until 2015, rather than 2013.


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