Photo: Wikimedia Commons
On the campaign trail, Governor Romney has latched on to the Obama administration’s defence budget as indicating a weakening of America’s military strength, although Saturday marked an interesting addition to his campaign’s talking points: the F-22 Raptor.The aircraft was included in Romney’s televised remarks in Virginia, along with repeated calls to bolster defence spending elsewhere. Via DoD Buzz:
“Rather than completing nine ships per year, I’d move that up to 15. I’d also add F-22s to our Air Force fleet. And I’d add about 100,000 active duty personnel to our military team.”
The fifth generation fighter’s production ended in 2011 under defence Secretary Robert Gate’s efforts to streamline big budget items, which led the U.S. Senate to vote 58-40 to end the program (under veto threat of President Obama) at just 187 of the original 750 units.
At the time, some notable Republicans supported the move, including Senator John McCain, who remarked on the Senate floor:
We’re not saying the F-22 isn’t a good aeroplane—We’re saying it is time to end the production of the F-22.
Since its hotly debated demise, the aircraft has made more headlines for its troubled oxygen supply system and dubious dogfighting performance than anything else.
So, why then bring up the F-22 as an element of Romney’s prospective defence strategy at all? It’s a potentially problematic move, as at least one current estimate to re-start the aircraft’s assembly line hovers at $900 million and could take two years, and that seems to be an optimistic assessment.
While it might be politically expedient to tout assembling more of the highly sophisticated aircraft as a means of bolstering U.S. military projection, it seems to underplay the effort that defence contractors (Lockheed, in this case) go through to secure supply networks, and could very well undercut efforts to secure international orders of Lockheed’s other fifth-generation aircraft, the single-engined F-35 Lightning II.
With delays and cost-overruns for the albeit more straightforward F-35, the Pentagon has nonetheless faced struggles in securing international orders for the aircraft, at times having to re-assure even its closest European and Japanese defence allies to procure them.
That is not to say that the F-22 is not a desirable international export—in fact, Japan wanted the aircraft enthusiastically, in particular for its twin engined design, and opted for the F-35 as its reluctant second choice to replace the country’s ageing F-4 “Kai” Phantoms.
Still, considering the re-activation fee for the Raptor program, Governor Romney’s defence platform would ring fairly hollow if it did not address just how many of the aircraft his administration would build, and justifying their expense when arguments failed to convince the Senate and members of his own party of their utility in 2011.
Looming defence cuts via sequestration, which would be enacted in next year’s defence spending to the tune of $500 billion unless both the administration and Congress reach a deficit reduction plan, has given Governor Romney manoeuvring room on national defence.
Romney’s own plan calls for a return “to the budget baseline established by Secretary Robert Gates in 2010,” prior to efforts by Gates himself to reign in costs via strategic cuts and troop reductions.
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