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Stop the F-22 Now

UPDATED: Obama Reissues F-22 Veto Threat in Letter to McCain; Levin and McCain File Amendment To Stop Plane; POGO Tracks Votes The Senate should debate the F-22's fate this week . Sen. John McCain, ranking member of the Senate Armed Services committee, has pledged to lead the fight against the F-22, which the committee approved over the objections of McCain and Sen. Carl Levin, chairman of the committee. Following is an op-ed by Winslow Wheeler and Pierre Sprey calling for an end to a plane they argue doesn't work nearly as well as claimed and is far too expensive.

Lawmakers beholden to Lockheed are leading the charge to overturn the Secretary of Defense's decision to stop producing the F-22. Gates and President Obama have threatened to veto the 2010 defense spending bill if it contains a single F-22 over the 187 authorized.

Both the House and Senate Armed Services Committees have already voted to overturn Gates' decision. The House wants to make a down payment on 12 more F-22s. The Senate wants to pay up front for seven more in 2010. The House of Representatives passed its version of the bill on June 25 by a vote of 389 to 22. Clearly, Obama and Gates have a long way to go to pocket the 145 or so votes they will need in the House to sustain a veto. The Senate should debate its bill this week. Obama and Gates will suffer a huge legislative defeat if the F-22 supporters win.

Instead of being such a close call, further production of F-22s ought to be laughed out of court. The F-22 is outrageously expensive. The 187 are costing just over $65 billion, about $350 million each.

Not a single F-22 has flown in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It would be foolish to deploy them since there is no enemy air force to fight against. To send F-22s as a bomber -- at three times the operating cost of F-16s that are already bombing over there -- would be just another drag on the war effort.

Even more important is the question of whether the F-22 is a good fighter. The truth is that the F-22s weaken US air power. Study after study show that pilot skill dominates all other factors in winning or losing air battles. The F-22’s maintenance costs have the Air Force to slash in-air pilot training. In the 1970s, fighter pilots were getting 20 to 30 hours a month of air combat training. Today, F-22 pilots get 10 to 12 hours. High tech theorists claim flying can be replaced by ground simulators. Experience teaches that simulators can be used for cockpit procedures training but, by misrepresenting in-air reality, they reinforce tactics that could get pilots killed in real combat.

The Air Force, Lockheed, and their congressional boosters tout the F-22 as the silver bullet of air combat. The F-22's so-called stealth may hurt more than it helps. In truth, against short wavelength radars, the F-22 is hard to detect only over a very narrow band of viewing angles. Worse, there are thousands of existing long range, long wavelength radars that can detect the F-22 from several hundred miles away at all angles. Believers in stealth’s invisibility should ask the pilots of the two -- not one, as commonly believed -- stealthy F-117 bombers taken out of action by old Russian radar-directed defense systems in the 1999 Kosovo air war. Moreover, a new whistleblower scandal is presenting evidence that the F-22's stealth skin has failed to meet its stealth requirements because it has been badly fabricated and dishonestly tested.

The vaunted invincibility of the F-22 founders on two incurable flaws: First, the plane's so-called "low probability of intercept" radar may now be easily detected, thanks to the proliferation of spread spectrum technology in cell phones and laptops. That creates an environment where, if the F-22 pilot turns on his radar, he announces his presence over hundreds of miles. Even better for the enemy, the radar makes an unmistakable beacon for opposing missiles.

Second, when combat forces F-22 pilots to turn off radars, they'll find themselves forced into a close-in, maneuvering fight. Compromised by stealth and heavy radar electronics, the plane's agility, short range missiles, and guns are nothing special -- as one of us observed at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada when an F-16 "shot down" an F-22 in exercises.

As for the plane's advertised ability to cruise supersonically the F-22's low fuel capacity (27% of takeoff weight, only two thirds of what's needed for combat-useful supersonic endurance in enemy airspace) reduces this to an air show trick. Why the big fuel shortfall? To make room for stealth technologies and radar electronics.

In summary, a vote for continuing F-22 production is a vote to decay pilots' skills, to deny them a truly great fighter, to shrink the number of pilots and planes we can field, and to reward Congress' unending appetite for pork. The new 2010 Defense Authorization bill should be vetoed if a single F-22 is added.

Winslow T. Wheeler, a former GOP congressional budget expert, is director of the Straus Military Reform Project at the Center for Defense Information in Washington.

Pierre M. Sprey, helped bring to fruition the F-16; he also led the design team for the A-10 and helped implement the program.

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