AF Leaders vs. Bob Gates on F-22


Prodded specifically by the Senate Armed Services Committee chairman for their personal opinions, U.S. Air Force Secretary Michael Wynne and chief Gen. T. Michael Moseley allowed that their own preferences would be for additional F-22 Raptor fighters and an alternative Joint Strike Fighter engine.

The top two Air Force leaders repeatedly stressed their support for President Bush's fiscal 2009 budget request and outyear defense budget planning. Moreover, during the Wednesday hearing in front of the SASC they noted profound efforts to "salute smartly" in response to all budget-making guidance from White House and Pentagon superiors.

But explicitly asked by Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) to offer their personal assessments, Wynne and Moseley made clear their own desires for more Raptors and an alternative JSF engine. The Air Force leaders suggested the SASC chairman ask them for their personal opinions after Levin grew momentarily frustrated with their hesitation to respond to his direct questions on the issues.

The secretary said he believes the minimum number of Raptors needed to meet future requirements is probably the previous estimate of 277. Moseley stated that he personally does not believe that the official Defense Department plan for just 183 of the Lockheed Martin-made fighters is enough.

"No, sir," the chief of staff told Levin when the senator asked him.

Both men also allowed that a second JSF engine could be a smart move by Washington, citing engine experiences with F-16s. Wynne acknowledged that the "business case" for a second JSF engine undermines such an effort on that specific cost analysis, but the question for defense leaders and lawmakers might be more one of confidence in meeting capabilities rather than strict budget concerns.

"Affordability can't always be the rule," the secretary said.

Indeed, highlighting redundancy and reliability above cost concerns played a major role in Wynne's explanations for more Raptors, in light of planned JSFs, as well as another JSF engine. He recalled being able to rely on F-16s when F-15s had to be grounded after longeron failures were identified last fall following an F-15 crash.

Moseley said the Air Force tries to craft its official budget request following affordability guidance provided from above, but it also stands ready to answer where further dollars would be best spent. "We owe you what we believe it takes," the chief also said.

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-- Christian

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