Saturday, July 18, 2009

Stealth Fighting

Just in case Congress, Lockheed Martin, and the Embassy of Japan did not get the message that the Obama Administration will NOT approve the continued production of F-22s in order to sell them to Japan, the Pentagon made its position clear this past week.

Just as the new Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia and the Pacific Kurt Campbell set off on his first trip to Japan and Asia, the Pentagon worked hard to show that there was no ambiguity in their opposition.

The campaign moved into high gear on Friday, July 10th with the front page of the Washington Post “Premier U.S. Fighter Jet Has Major Shortcomings: F-22's Maintenance Demands Growing.” The Post’s top military affairs reporter wrote: “The United States' top fighter jet, the Lockheed Martin F-22, has recently required more than 30 hours of maintenance for every hour in the skies, pushing its hourly cost of flying to more than $44,000, a far higher figure than for the warplane it replaces.”

On Wednesday, July 15th, Defense Department briefer Geoff Morrell answered press questions regarding the F-22. Among his answers was a clear message to Japan that the Pentagon is “opposed” to further F-22 and sales to Japan:

Q What is the secretary's position for the export version of F-22?

MR. MORRELL: Well, I think we've been over this a couple times, but I'm happy to do it one more time.

Fundamentally, it's illegal right now. There is an amendment, the Obey amendment, which prohibits the sale -- the export of F-22s to anyone. So that would be a matter that would have to be overcome with some sort of legislative remedy.

The secretary's fundamental attitude about the F-22 is that we have enough of them. And -- and I think, you know, if we have enough, I think it's to be determined between other governments who wish to pursue this and see if there's a way that they can deal with perhaps acquiring these in the future.

I don't know that this is something we are advocating. We believe that the F-35 is the aircraft of the future. We believe that is the aircraft that we want to develop in conjunction with our -- with our partners around the world. It's what makes it affordable to all of us, that we do this together. And, frankly, we believe it's the aircraft that best serves joint operations around the world. It can be used by all services -- the Air Force, the Navy, the Marines -- and it can be deployed in a similar way in foreign militaries as well.

So I think that, overall, we believe that where we should be focusing on is a newer, better -- in many respects -- aircraft that we can develop together, reduce the costs collectively. It would be enormously expensive for Japan or other countries to buy the -- to buy an export model of the F-22, money we think could be better spent in developing the F-35 together, and develop a platform that would have interoperability if we were to work together in the future.

So I guess my position on that evolved. So I think we're opposed to an export of the F-22. (Laughter.)

The next day, Defense Secretary Robert Gates in speaking to the Economics Club of Chicago said:

One of the programs the budget would cap is the F-22 fighter jet program. While “a niche silver-bullet solution for one or two potential scenarios,” the fighter is expensive and has limited capabilities when compared to the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

And today, Saturday, July 18th the Post capped the week with an editorial, "No More F-22s," against the further purchase of this 5th generation fighter.

Japan does have its supporters for the purchase of the F-22. Foremost, is Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Senator Daniel Inouye (D-HI). In March, he wrote the Japanese ambassador in Washington that the theoretical sale price of F-22s to Japan would be $290 million each if production was continued and ramped up to include exports.

How embarrassing to have a US Senator hawking discounts like Costco for bulk purchases. What possessed the Senator to write the Ambassador a sales letter I do not know. It it has been my experience, however, that when Senator Inouye “writes” something on Japan it tends to be a cut and paste from the talking points prepared by the Japanese Embassy’s lobbyists Hogan & Hartsen.

Congressman Joe Courtney (D-CT) sponsored amendment included in the June House National Defense Authorization Act that would allow the export of F-22s specifically to Japan. He claims that “there was not very much input from the government of Japan” in drafting the bill.

And not to be left behind, AEI’s Japan guy Michael Auslin—the younger, stupider, less substantive, uglier Michel Green—wrote a peculiar piece on Wednesday July 15th supporting the continued production of the F-22, "These Fighter Numbers Don’t Add Up." He tried to protect himself from the flack Green got for his Tokyo comments supporting the fighter's sale to Japan, by making not one direct mention of Japan in his essay.

He simply discussed the stealth fighter on its merits and the cost savings of producing “export variants to sell to American allies” (code for Japan). Since when is Misha a military hardware expert and defense commentator? He writes books on cultural relations between the U.S. and Japan. Oooh, he's manning up and talking defspeak.

The Obama Administration feels the F-22 is a waste of money for problematic technology. Resources are needed elsewhere, the conflicts ahead do not require stealth fighter/bombers, and the jobs that might be lost in 40 states could be used more productively. The campaign to save the F-22, therefore, appears to weaken rather than strengthen American defense capabilities. That then leaves the question as to whom would want that.

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