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Gates to Air Force: Why I Cut the F-22

Defense Secretary Bob Gates walked into the Air Force’s War College at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama today and explained why he cut the F-22 fighter jet:

When examining the issue of air supremacy, we had to ask, what is the right mix of weapons to deal with the span of threats? What are the things that the F-22, and only the F-22, can do – and where would it be required? There is no doubt that the F-22 has unique capabilities that we need – the penetration and defeat of an advanced enemy air defense and fighter fleet. But, the F-22 is, in effect, a niche, silver-bullet solution required for a limited number of scenarios – to overcome advanced enemy fighters and air defense systems. In assessing the F-22 requirement, we also considered the advanced stealth and superior air-to-ground capabilities provided by the fifth-generation F-35s now being accelerated in this budget, the growing capability and range of unmanned platforms like the Reaper, and other systems in the Air Force and in other services. I also considered the fact that Russia is probably 6 years away from Initial Operating Capability of a fifth-generation fighter and the Chinese are 10 to 12 years away. By then we will have more than 1,000 fifth-generation fighters in our inventory. In light of all these factors, and on the recommendation of the Air Force secretary and chief of staff, I concluded that 183 – the program of record since 2005 – plus four would be a sufficient number to meet requirements. To be clear, the F-22 program of record as codified in the FY 2005 budget (and all budgets since) will be completed, and not cut as many have said and reported.

Looking forward, the goal of our weapons buying is to develop a portfolio – a mixture of weapons whose flexibility allows us to respond to a spectrum of contingencies on or beyond the horizon. Focusing exclusively, or obsessively, on a single weapons system designed to do a specific job or confront a single adversary ignores what a truly joint force can and must do in the 21st century.

I don’t have a transcript of the subsequent Q&A yet, but it’ll be interesting to see if Gates got any pushback here.

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