I guess I'm going to have to dive in here...though I'm reluctant to because the sides are so polarized in the issue.
The fight in the Senate is going on over the added funding for F-22s inserted into the 2010 DoD budget by Raptor allies in states with key Raptor manufacturing facilities. Sens. McCain and Levin are on the administration's side on this one, arguing that the budget should stick with the 187 plane plan. Obama has said he'll veto the DoD budget bill if it includes any (seven in the Senate, 12 in the House) additional F-22s over his plan.
Advocates argue that 187 is far too few aircraft to maintain air superiority in the future, even one still dominated by US airpower. And the undercurrent also flows with job-loss worries -- particularly in Georgia, where a large portion of the manufacturing will be done.
They're both right.
On the one hand we have Winslow Wheeler and his bros arguing that the F-22 is the poster child for a Pentagon procurement system run amok and that it's aided and abetted by a Congress always looking for pork to fry up for its constituents. And on the other, there's an eloquent argument made by Air Force Association president Lt. Gen. Mike Dunn that the 187 F-22s is really 100 operational F-22s and that's way too few even for the most optimistic scenarios.
Arguably it's not about raw numbers -- people can debate 200 vs. 800 vs. 100 all day long. On the one hand, it seems to me a good idea to have the most advanced fighter in the world in our inventory -- and to have a good amount of them (no fair fights). But on the other hand it has been frustrating that the Raptor has taken so damned long to field. I've been in the defense reporting biz for a while and I can remember doing stories in F-22 development (and even the competition for the Raptor) and seeing some stat that the components on it were from the 1980s...that's a problem.
So maybe the F-22 is the B-2 of the fighter world. We need to call it a loss and keep a silver bullet fleet to satisfy all the constituencies involved and turn the chapter on this one. As far as I'm concerned, the future belongs to unmanned aircraft and it may be that we'll go counter to our usual practice and throw dozens of cheap drones at an air superiority problem in the next two decades rather than send up one or two Gucci fighters to knock down Mig-15s, if you know what I mean.
So I'll reluctantly side with McCain/Levin/Obama on this one (though I don't think it's worth vetoing the entire defense bill over seven more Raptors). But I'll be sad to witness the final death throes of the manned fighter air superiority era...