F-22 and the Big Picture

f22_inflightTravis Sharp of the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation has a good update on the Nukes of Hazard blog about the current congressional politics of the F-22, the Air Force’s favorite air-to-air fighter.

Secretary Gates and the Obama administration, you’ll recall, want to stop buying F-22s. Soon we’ll have bought 187 at $350 million a pop, depending on how you count. With few air forces out there that can rival ours, DoD, sensibly, would rather spend its billions elsewhere.

Congress isn’t so sure. The House Armed Services Committee narrowly voted to include $369 million in the FY 2010 defense authorization bill to keep the F-22 production line open. An amendment to strip that money from the bill didn’t make it out of the Rules Committee.  The Senate probably won’t include the funding in their version. The appropriators haven’t acted yet, but are generally pro-F-22 in both houses. So this will remain a live issue for a while, with resolution probably coming in conference. Meanwhile,  the White House just threatened to veto the defense bill if F-22 money is in it.

The fighter mafia that dominates (dominated?) the Air Force wants more F-22s but has been silenced by Gates, who stuck a non-fighter on the top of the service to tow the company line. Fighter generals on the way to retirement, however, can speak their mind and show Congress where the Air Force’s heart is.

The logic behind keeping the line open is simple. Politically, defense production lines are hungry mouths to feed, a concentrated set of interests that compel their representatives to favor continued procurement or export licenses. Advocates of defense programs understand that political demand will dissipate when the line closes. So when their program is in political trouble, they punt, and ask for just enough money to keep it open, trying to live to play another day.

We should stop buying the F-22. But I worry that doves consume their political energy arguing about the merits of particular defense programs, while mostly ignoring the bloated defense budget and the excessive commitments it underwrites. The F-22 is just a symptom of the larger malady. With all sorts of new spending commitments and a recession, this is a relatively good time to make the case against our hegemonic military posture and its extraordinary cost, fiscal and otherwise. That’s a way to kill the F-22, and more.