Raptor: Just a Plain Ol' Fighter, Again

raptor3.jpgDefense News is reporting that the Air Force is planning to drop the "A" from the F/A-22 Raptor:

Three years after the U.S. Air Force added an A to highlight the F/A-22 Raptors ability to drop bombs, the service is dropping the extra letter from the stealthy jets designator.The plane, which is expected to officially enter service in the coming weeks, will henceforth be called the F-22A with the trailing letter indicating a first variant, not an extra role.
So it's losing an 'A' but gaining, er, another 'A'. Anyway.
In September 2002, Gen. John Jumper, then-Air Force chief of staff, added the A to emphasize the aircrafts ground-attack capabilities. The switch came as the airplane was being assailed by critics inside and outside the Pentagon as too expensive for the post-Sept. 11 world.This isnt your fathers F-22, then-Air Force Secretary Jim Roche said in a 2002 interview.Since then, several Air Force officials have called the aircraft even more flexible and capable than the F/A designator indicated. Classified capabilities, unknown to the American public and U.S. lawmakers alike, mean that the plane might as well have been called the FB-22 bomber, F/E-22 surveillance plane, F/EA-22 electronic attack aircraft, or even an RC-22 signals-intelligence platform, they said.
I noted a couple of weeks ago that so many additional roles were being shoehorned onto the Raptor that it was becoming the F/A/R/C/E-22. Not because it's a poor-performing plane (it isn't) or because these additional capabilities are useless (they aren't), but because so many non-fighter capabilities were being hyped so loudly on this very expensive project that it was beginning to look more than a little silly.If a 150-million-plus dollar fifth-generation air superiority fighter cannot justify itself based solely upon its ability to defeat enemy aircraft when all the chips are down, no add-on capability to destroy IEDs along convoy routes is going to help sell anyone on it. And make no mistake. The Raptor is a 'when all the chips are down' aircraft. Between the limited numbers the Air Force will be getting and the significant expense of each plane, expect them to attend only the most important parties.As noted at the time, adding more capability to an already-impressive fighter is great. For instance, IEDs are the biggest problem our troops face right now, and if there's anything anyone can do to help, let's get them on it ASAP. But don't tell us the Raptor can not only fight other planes but it can also drop bombs and expect us to suddenly stop caring about the price tag or questioning the program's place in today's military.Adding the 'A' for 'attack' was pretty silly to begin with. The simple capability to carry and use ground-attack munitions isn't enough to qualify, otherwise virtually every combat plane in the inventory would be wearing an 'A'. It's all about the role that the plane is going play. And, despite the capability to use GPS-guided JDAMs, does anyone seriously believe that our limited number of very expensive F-22s are going to be playing a significant role in the ground attack and close air support roles? They'll only do so if F-16s, F-15Es, and the A-10 'Warthogs' are unavailable.So while this is a welcome move by the Air Force, it probably shouldn't impact our expectations of the Raptor one way or the other. Before it was an 'F/A', it wasn't going to do a whole lot of ground attack. When it became an 'F/A', it still wasn't. So this change back to good old 'F' hasn't really done much to alter things.But did you notice how the switch back from 'F/A' didn't happen until the first squadron of Raptors, nearly finished with a rather impressive string of exercises and demonstrations, is just about to become fully active?And it occurs to me that the presence of an 'F/A' Raptor might hurt the case to justify a true fighter-bomber version of the Raptor, the FB-22. Lockheed continues to push for such a beast, but some may wonder if we need a Raptor fighter-bomber when we already have a Raptor fighter-attack plane.Voila! We don't have a Raptor fighter attack plane anymore, do we? (Or am I just being cynical?)--cross-posted by Murdoc
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