A former head of Air Combat Command is aware of “no analysis whatsoever” that could have produced a requirement that the Air Force buy just 187 F-22 air superiority fighters. That’s the number Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the Pentagon intended to buy, after which the aircraft’s production line would be shut down.
Retired Air Force Gen. Richard Hawley said the only “detailed analysis” he knows of generated a requirement for 381 F-22s, the number needed to fight two simultaneous wars “against adversaries capable of contesting our control of the air.”
Hawley’s not terribly surprising call for more F-22s was made in front of a largely sympathetic group of senators from the Armed Services Air Land Subcommittee on Thursday, most of whom, including chairman Sen. Joe Lieberman, Ct., appeared to be looking for ammunition to refute Gates’ recommended F-22 buy. Piling on the Gates’ decision at the same hearing was CSBA senior fellow Barry Watts, who said DOD’s 187 F-22 number “was purely budget driven, it had nothing to do with analysis.”
Hawley said a fleet of 187 F-22s might be able to support one major war against an adversary with advanced air defenses, but even that number could be too low. Due to normal attrition, maintenance and the need for training aircraft, the general rule-of-thumb is that it takes 100 aircraft to produce 72 “operational” aircraft. By that formula, a fleet of 187 F-22s would be able to generate at best 100 combat ready aircraft, he said.
Hawley said he participated in the original analysis that produced the “actual requirement” for 381 F-22 number, based on generating ten operational squadrons for the two major war scenario. Moreover, a large F-22 fleet is vital to maintaining our “conventional deterrent posture,” he said. Because the stealthy aircraft is able to penetrate advanced air defenses it threatens a potential enemy’s high value targets, where other aircraft in the U.S. fleet cannot. “The F-22 is an investment in deterrence just like our investment in nuclear weapons during the Cold War.”
If the Obama administration decides fighting two simultaneous wars against advanced adversaries in different parts of the world is no longer the force sizing construct, then shutting down the F-22 production line would be appropriate, Hawley said. The “prudent” move would be to continue F-22 production until at least a year from now when the national security strategy hopefully becomes a bit clearer. While praising the attributes of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, he said it was very much a complimentary aircraft, not a replacement for the F-22.
The future of the Air Force’s Next Generation Bomber was also a hot topic at Thursday’s hearing. Watts said the aging fleet of 20 B-2 stealth bombers would not see us through the next 20 to 30 years, and development must begin immediately on a replacement. Referring to Gates’ decision to hold off on the NGB program until after the QDR strategic review, Watts said “we’ve studied the NGB issue to death, we don’t need more studies.” Hawley raised the ghosts of Vietnam as a warning against short changing pilots with inferior aircraft in the face of a determined enemy, saying the Air Force entered that war ill-trained and ill-prepared and had over 2,000 aircraft shot down, against what he called a “third rate” adversary.
Updated: Hawley’s 100 operational F-22 comment came in response to a question regarding how many aircraft would be operational over the long term after x number of a 187 strong F-22 fleet had been lost through normal attrition. His exact quote: “Given that that’s likely the number, about 100, we must understand that you never are able to deploy all of those airplanes. In my experience you shouldn’t expect to have more than about 75 percent of that force available in surge cases to support a combatant commander who faces a serious threat, so it’s even less than 100.