Opinions and Speeches

Wednesday, July 15, 2009 -

U.S. military needs the F-22 Raptor

July 15, 2009

U.S. military needs the F-22 Raptor
By Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson
(As appeared in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

In deciding the fate of the F-22A Raptor, opponents of the stealth jet assembled in Marietta aren't waging war: They're waging obfuscation.

If readers based their opinions solely on the anonymous sources who have attempted to crash the F-22's future — particularly those quoted in a story the AJC ran Sunday — they'd be forgiven for thinking the Raptor is the biggest failure since the Spruce Goose.

As usual, the truth tells a different story.

Here's a fact: The F-22 will be America's top fighter/bomber for the next four decades, able to take down present and future air threats.

We support the F-22 program and are fighting President Obama's efforts to remove $1.75 billion for new planes from the defense authorization bill pending in the Senate.

In the debate over funding more F-22s, the Obama administration has said repeatedly that the plane is unnecessary for fighting the types of wars America is presently waging in Iraq and Afghanistan.

But that fails to take into account the all-too-real threat posed by inexpensive integrated air-defense systems that not only exist but that are mushrooming.

Think about North Korea, or about Iran, nations run by hostile regimes hellbent on obtaining nuclear weapons and buying the next generation of Russian-made surface-to-air missiles.

For planes without the F-22's stealth technology and supersonic speeds, it will be extremely difficult to penetrate such countries' airspaces.

The Raptor is the only Western aircraft that can stalk such targets day and night while also piercing enemy airspace.

Here's another fact: No other aircraft has this capability.

This isn't theoretical. In exercises, other aircraft have proven no match for the Raptor.

In a recent Red Flag exercise in Alaska, the F-22 slew 144 enemy planes with the loss of only one Raptor.

With the F-22's advanced avionics, it can engage the enemy long before the enemy knows it's there.

Detractors of the F-22 have been quick to highlight the jet's reported technical and maintenance problems.

To address those allegations, the Air Force has written a rebuttal fact sheet that is posted on our Web sites.

Regardless of whether it's in the Air Force's best interest to garner more F-22s — which cynics will undoubtedly say — the service certainly has an interest in owning planes that are safe to fly.

The Raptor's detractors also persist in using false economics: that the F-22's hourly flight costs are far more expensive than the F-15 it is replacing.

No wonder. The brand-new F-22 costs $19,750 per hour to fly, instead of $17,465 for the F-15, a plane that is nearly 40 years old, and that has none of the F-22's advanced stealth and speed capabilities.

Yes, the F-22 requires a large number of maintenance hours per flight hour.

But most of those are spent on the Raptor's "skin" that gives it the ability to elude radar. Maintaining that stealth requires a great deal of exactitude and painstaking attention. And the plane requires far less work to maintain than did its predecessors, the F-117 and the B-2.

It is a better buy for the taxpayer to maintain the F-22 than to buy replacement models of nonstealth aircraft that have proven vulnerable precisely because they could not infiltrate enemy airspace.

And it is unquestionably better not to expose our pilots and troops to such dangers if we have the technology to protect them as they perform their jobs.

If the Raptor is such a fiasco, as its critics would have you believe, then Americans should wonder why so many of our allies, including Israel, Japan and Australia, continue to express interest in buying it.

Perhaps these nations can see through the radar-jamming rhetoric to understand that the F-22 is an airborne deterrent in America's arsenal, capable of protecting our fighting men and women now and in the future.

Sens. Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson, Republicans, are the senior and junior U.S. senators from Georgia.