Thursday, April 21, 2016

The F-22 and F-35 Currency

First there was the F-22 Rapture and then came the F-35 Lightning II. Sounds like a plan G-man. However, as often as G-man plans don't hold together, the F-22 (the world's most advanced fighter at the time and some say it’s far better than expected) have too few flying in number. The total comes too only 186 in service. Each has a cost of a troubled Littoral combat ship. The sentiment is not to send the F-22 into conflict unless absolutely necessary and only upon the survival of this nation.

However, a funny thing happened. A few of the F-22 did get away to a combat zone (Iraq/Syria), and surgically lay waste to battlefields. With a few in airshows and military exercises, a honing of the pilot's skills was mastered for what the F-22 offered. The pilots had just to learn what and how the fighter fit its role. The engineers at home had to "adjust" its systems. The maintainers crafted its F-22 skill set. The F-22 became an aircraft the US could not live without. It is stealthy, it is fast and it is powerful!

Then came the F-35 as it was scheduled to fill all the military's roles in all fields. Army, Navy and Marines had skin in the game. There were not enough F-22, but there certainly would be enough F-35's. The government woke up to the fact that a much slower F-35 and a less maneuverable fighter may have to fight in a war while not playing stand-off duty from a hundred miles out. It may have to get in there and go dirty with somebody in the near future. Some nations may have the F-35's number. Add 3 and 5 together and it's an 8, and it is somebody's lucky number.

Now we come to the main point of this opinion. The government didn't destroy the F-22 tooling, its production capacity or its internal ability for making the F-22. It kept everything F-22 as an insurance policy. At the end of the F-22 production run, the G-men and women sought preserving program viability in the file case. They got it all and guess what? The F-22 review has come out of the file and is now up for assignment like an Air Reserve Force. The US government has learned many lessons since F-22 production ceased. New weapons, systems, and a lean build technique are available that were not available at the close of the F-22 production run. The always improving bug has bit the F-22 program. Congress is looking at building 197 more F-22's in the next decade. The study is a cash based feasibility report. How much would it cost if the US Government opens the F-22 production and what could be enhanced coming from the F-35 program transferred the F-22 capability?

Important currency questions. The F-22 plowed the way for the F-35 and now the F-35 can give back to the F-22 if it reopens its production. The F-22 could do all the best of the F-35 capability in an F-22 shell. The R&D is almost complete enough through the F-35 and by the time the F-22 starts a production rerun, technology transfer back to the F-22 would be a great currency move. The F-22 was scheduled for a 750 fleet of aircraft, but money constraints had reduced it to only 186 fighters. That is a mere shadow of the original vision. Military forces around the world have made strides towards the level of the F-22 as the F-35 stumbles along. The confidence for F-35 fighters slumps to inferiority fighter rather than superiority fighter. Money has run out long ago for the F-35 vision and now congress is calling for an F-22 lifeline on its question. Can the military show this nation it has air superiority chops in close combat with the F-35? 

The problem arises when the assumption for air battles will be all stand-off battles. What if the adversary does not achieve a high level of stand-off capability or does not have satellites in space. It will fight with what it has. A very capable close-in dog fighter where the F-35 lacks and the F-22 exceeds. It now comes to the mind of many a planner the US needs the two layers of capabilities. A fighter for close encounters better the F-16 and a miracle worker coordinating the battle air space. The US needs a left hook (F-22) and a hard right Jab (F-22). The only problem at this time is money.

The budget builders of the military need to convene on how important is the F-22 since it started service and how long can it wait for the F-35 to reach Initial Operational Capability (IOC) maturation? Every talking head says the Marines have IOC and the Air Force will have IOC by years end, and the Navy is coming along just fine.

The problems for the F-35 are legion at this time. The program is moving forward at a rate where for every solution accomplished within the program is overcome by new advancing problems coming from the next block of R&D phases when it has identified a new set of problems. This will continue to infinity and beyond. The F-35 needs to demonstrate a block point eliminating all open issues and not straggle the program like a Napoleonic Retreat from Russia.

If Congress does decide on the F-22, for two hundred more for production, as it was always planned from the file cabinet, then it will take 300 F-35's out from 2,400 it now plans. The question for all strategist is... Do you want 300 more F-35's or two hundred more F-22's? A second question for the producers... can you deliver the F-35 up to its initial vision when the project was first initiated?

My own answers are steeped in a bitter bias for the F-22. It needs about 400 in supply to use often in theater. Having a 186 unit fleet of F-22’s suggest it should only be used as a last result because of the few numbers available. Every frame counts. IF those frames are lost in combat, then the nation is in grave risk. Having double the number with upgraded technology will keep this country at an advantage for defending itself. Many may say the F-35 could do it all but the F-22 can do it at this time at a fast and stealthy pace.