F-22 Boondoggle

George Wilson has an interesting column in WaPo on the F-22, entitled “Planes the Air Force Doesn’t Need.”

The Pentagon’s figures show that it intends to buy 278 F-22 fighters for $72 billion, or $258 million a plane, counting research and development costs already spent to bring it into being. But the General Accounting Office has just told Congress this will not be enough. The GAO says it will take an additional $8 billion-plus to finance the planned upgrades to make the F-22 a high-tech ground attack aircraft as well as air superiority fighter. This improvement would push the F-22’s price tag up to $300 million.

The $80 billion to buy a fleet of F-22s is one-third higher than this year’s Education Department budget and about eight times as much as the State Department’s current annual budget. The top priority the F-22 is getting as the president and Congress apportion tax dollars suggests this is a must-have airplane. But in fact changes in the world and other developments argue against buying this plane in the numbers being contemplated. President Bush is scheduled to decide whether to put the F-22 in full-scale production this December.

He then makes a pretty detailed argument why the plane is, in fact, one we don’t need. What’s peculiar is that most knowledgable observers came to this conclusion about a decade ago. It’s a magnificent airplane and, frankly, would be nice to have. And comparisons with its cost and that of school lunch programs is rather silly. But the fact remains that our defense dollars could be allocated in far more efficient ways. Air superiority isn’t going to be an issue for the foreseeable future. Lack of assets for stability operations has been a problem for a decade and will surely continue for another decade.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. cas says:

    If we don’t “need” the F-22, what will replace the aging Air Force fleet? What will take the place of the F-15’s (and Navy F-14’s) designed and built in the 1970’s? or the F-16’s from the 1980’s?
    Much of the technology used to build the F-22 will also be used to build the Joint Stike Fighter(JSF), which the Navy, the British RAF, and the Marines (I think) will also be buying. But they won’t reach the flightline until 6-8 years from now, if at all, given budgeting restraints and engineering difficulties. And they are not designed for then air superiority mission.