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Who Needs F-22 Requirements

UPDATED: With Sen. Chambliss Comments Accusing Gates of Failing to Develop Strategy And Making "One-Time" Budget Decisions

The F-22 fight is in full swing, notwithstanding comments earlier this week from Lockheed Martin's CFO that the company will not fight down to the wire for the weapon. Sens. Saxby Chambliss and James Inhofe signaled this week that they are almost certain to keep fighting for the plane.

"Just because you are the boss doesn't always mean you are right, and it doesn't always mean you will win," the former commander of Air Force Material Command, Greg Martin, said Thursday in a clear sign of just how vigorous the fight over the F-22 may become. Martin spoke at an F-22 event hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Just who will win over the F-22 and what that will mean for the services and Congress is growing increasingly complex.

For example, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz said last week that the service's requirement for 243 F-22s remained intact. If that's the case, Gates' decision to cap the F-22 buy raises basic questions about the role of the services in building budgets and making budget decisions.

An Air Force officer familiar with Schwartz' thinking told me that the requirement remained but that Gates had made a resource decision and the service understood that. Now defense secretaries are the final decision makers at the Pentagon. No question. But Schwartz's comments [first reported on Friday by Air Force Magazine] would seem to raise all sorts of questions about the sanctity or relevance or requirements. Are requirements nothing more than guidelines subject to the latest budgetary crisis? Are they largely irrelevant, except as a proof of concept exercise?

Given the impressive amount of national treasure and brain power that goes into determining the requirements for major weapons systems, should they be overruled or ignored when money looks tight? And how much risk is the country accepting? That is not clear from Gates’ arguments yet.

Schwartz and Air Force Secretary Michael Donley wrote in an op-ed in the Washington Post that 243 Raptors would have been a "moderate-risk" inventory. The 381 F-22s, the former requirement, was a low-risk number. But Air Force Magazine reported that Schwartz said at a National Aeronautic Association's luncheon that stopping production at 187 was made very simply because "more F-22s are unaffordable in the context of other things we must do."

At the CSIS event, Grant questioned whether Gates had performed any analysis to craft the 187 number. "What was the analysis that led us to that number? When we look at it, I think we'll find there wasn't any," Martin said.

Sen. Saxby Chambliss castigated Gates for lacking a strategic basis for his decisions on the F-22 and the Future Combat Vehicle.

"Despite the secretary saying in his April 6 comments that he was not focusing on the budget, when you look at the decisions he made those decisions are purely budget-oriented choices," Saxby said, adding that Gates made these choices without "a real strategy" and "no analysis" of the F-22 and its military impact.

Rebecca Grant, an analyst at the Lexington Institute, said Thursday that she would characterize 187 as a "high-risk" result. She argued, during the CSIS event, that the F-22 is needed principally because it is the premier weapon against the sophisticated S-300 ground-to-air missiles that the Russians have developed and are trying to sell.

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