UPDATED: Common Cause Issues Boeing/Lockheed Lobbying Contributors List; NDAA Vote Within Two Weeks; GOP Stalls F-22 Vote; Letter from AF Secretary and COS
The future of the Obama administration's efforts to reshape the Defense Department may well be determined as the Senate debates whether to stop F-22 production. Defense Secretary Robert Gates may not be around for the 2012 budget, but the administration’s ability to hog-tie (er, effectively debate) Congress -- as it did so effectively for the budget year -- will hinge on whether it can stop the F-22 forces in their tracks.
The vote on the Levin-McCain amendment to strip $1.75 billion from the authorization bill and spread the money around to service operations and maintenance accounts, with the final $500 million going back into the general budget kitty, will probably note get voted on for several days, according to a senior congressional aide. The GOP balked at allowing a vote today as members plotted how to get the best return on their votes. Also, a congressional aide said that Levin and McCain are scrambling to find enough votes to overturn the committee's decision to overrule both the chairman and the ranking member in funding more F-22s. The two leading defense experts in the Senate are in the extraordinary spot of finding it very difficult to convince, cajole and wheedle their colleagues into supporting what they believe is a compelling and obvious position.
One of the things that may be making life more difficult for the two senators is the money Lockheed and Boeing are pouring into the F-22 campaign. "Combined, these two companies have given nearly $1.4 million in campaign contributions so far this year to 50 senators as the companies have fought to continue funding for the much-criticized fighter jet," said Common Cause, the good government lobby, in a July 14 press release. Have a look at the contributors chart at the bottom of the release.
With the president's risky restatement of his veto threat should more F-22s be placed in the defense authorization bill, Barack Obama put his and Gates' credibility on the line. If they fail, the scent of blood will rush through the water and embolden the legislative sharks hungry for a victory over an administration that has kept them at bay so far. This goes for both parties and both chambers.
Sen. Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, led off the debate on the Senate floor this morning. He tried to recast the debate to some degree. arguing it is "not about whether or not we will have the capability of the F-22 but a debate about how many F-22 aircraft we should have and at what cost..." Then Levin started to hammer away with the list of those who oppose more F-22s: "two commanders in chief, two secretaries of defense, two chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff."
Levin also introduced a letter from the Air Force Secretary and Air Force Chief of Staff arguing that the nation does not need more than 187 F-22s. It says they "methodically reviewed the issue" and considered "emerging joint warfighting requirements, complementary F-22 and F-35 roles in future security environments, potential advantages of continuing a warm F-22 production line as insurance against delays in the F-35 program and impacts to the services and national partners if resources were realigned from the F-35 to the F-22..." After all that, and looking at the more than $13 billion continued F-22 production would consume to build 243 aircraft, the Air Force leadership decided against building more F-22s.
In addition, Sen. John McCain, who has taken point on the side of those who want to stop production at 187 planes, offered a helpful summary of the arguments and counter-arguments during his floor speech this morning on the Senate floor as the debate about the defense authorization bill got underway. The most compelling portion of his argument: "As Military Deputy to the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition General Mark D. Shackleford said, 'the capability that we get out of the 187 F-22s we believe is more than sufficient for the type of threat that the Secretary of Defense is addressing in the future'. Whatever moderate risk may arise from ending the F-22 program now is merely short-term and, under the Air Force’s Combat Air Force (CAF) restructure plan, necessary for the Air Force to transition the current fleet to a smaller, more capable fifth-generation fighter force for all the Services."
McCain's staff provided a copy of his floor speech. It follows.
Let me respond to arguments raised during this debate on the F-22.
Argument: 187 F-22s will not meet operational demands at an acceptable level of risk. In the view of some Air Force officials (Air Combat Command General John Corley, for example), a total of 381 F-22s would be sufficient to meet operational demands at a low level of risk, and that a total of 243 to 250 would be sufficient to meet operational demands with a moderate level of risk.
Response: In December 2004, DOD determined that 183 F-22s was sufficient to meet its military requirements. The Department conducted several analyses which affirmed that number based on a number of variables, including the length and type of wars that DOD believes it will have to fight in the future and future capabilities of likely adversaries.
The President, the Secretary of Defense, the Chairman and the Vice-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Air Force Chief of Staff and the Secretary of the Air Force, have stated that 187 F-22s are sufficient to meet operational requirements, particularly when combined with other U.S. military assets (including cyber-warfare, strike fighter aircraft, long-range stand-off precision weapons) to counter enemy aircraft and surface-to-air missile systems in the future from potential adversaries.
In response to the argument that more F-22s are necessary to close a gap in fifth-generation fighters between the United States and China, on May 14, Secretary Gates noted, “[W]hen you look at potential threats—for example, in 2020, the United States will have 2,700 TACAIR. China will have 1,700. But, of ours, 1,000 will be fifth-generation aircraft, including the F-22 and the F-35. And, in 2025, that gap gets even bigger. So, the notion that a gap or a United States lead over China alone of 1,700 fifth-generation aircraft in 2025 does not provide additional fifth-generation aircraft, including F-22s, to take on a secondary threat seems to be unrealistic.”
Secretary Gates summarized his position on the operational need issue on June 18, when he said that “the U.S. military has to have the flexibility across the spectrum of conflict to handle the threats of the future” and that “this will mean a huge investment for the future, one that is endangered by continuing the F-22 Raptor program.” He concluded, “frankly, to be blunt about it, the notion that not buying 60 more F-22s imperils the national security of the United States, I find complete nonsense.”
As Military Deputy to the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition General Mark D. Shackleford said, “the capability that we get out of the 187 F-22s we believe is more than sufficient for the type of threat that the Secretary of Defense is addressing in the future”. Whatever moderate risk may arise from ending the F-22 program now is merely short-term and, under the Air Force’s Combat Air Force (CAF) restructure plan, necessary for the Air Force to transition the current fleet to a smaller, more capable fifth-generation fighter force for all the Services.
Argument: Buying more F-22s could help mitigate a projected fighter shortfall of up to 800 aircraft by 2024 that Air Force leaders identified in 2008 and a projected gap recently identified within the Air National Guard’s fighter inventory. Such purchases could also hedge the United States against the risk of unexpected age-related problems developing in the Air Force's legacy force.
Response: The fighter gap that the Air Force identified is questionable, given that it turns on various assumptions regarding threats and whether the United States will fight by itself or as part of a coalition. In any event, the Air Force has put in place a plan that will both mitigate any shortfall in fighter capability and bridge the current fleet to a smaller, more capable fifth-generation fighter force. An essential element of that plan—called the Combat Air Force (CAF) restructure plan—is to stop investing in the F-22 program after the current program of record of 187. That plan addresses possible shortfalls in fighter capability more cost-effectively than simply buying more F-22s. It does so by restructuring the Air Force’s current fleet of fighters now and directing resulting savings to modifying newer or more reliable fighters in the legacy fleet (including, upgraded F-15s and F-16s), procuring less expensive aircraft (including, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter), and investing in joint enablers. Under the plan, those investments will help create a more capable fleet that can bridge the Air Force to a future fleet with a smaller, more capable force.
In addition, in the years ahead, the Department of Defense needs to focus on improving its capabilities for irregular warfare operations, and the F-22 is not a key program for improving those capabilities. While the F-22 is an extraordinarily capable “air superiority” platform, its limited air-to-ground capability makes it less appropriate for supporting counterinsurgency operations—so much so that, as Secretary Gates has pointed out several times, "the reality is we are fighting two wars, in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the F-22 has not performed a single mission in either theater."
Argument: The decision to end the F-22 program is purely budget driven.
Response: Secretary Gates’ has indicated numerous times that his decision to end the program is not resource driven. He announced that decision on April 6, weeks before his plan was even submitted to the Office of Management and Budget for vetting. On April 30, Secretary Gates plainly stated, “if my top-line were $50 billion higher, I would make the same decision [regarding the F-22 program].” That having been said, given the current fiscal crisis, buying more F-22s would likely reduce funding for other more critically needed aircraft, such as the F-35, F/A-18E/F, and EA-18G, which unlike the F-22 are equipped with electronic warfare capability—the combatant commanders’ number one priority. In that sense, continuing to purchase of F-22s could create operational risks for the United States military in the near term.
Argument: Buying more F-22s will ensure the Air National Guard gets modernized fighter aircraft sooner.
Response: Under the Total Force policy, all the Services, included the Air National Guard, will receive Joint Strike Fighters at the appropriate time and at the appropriate rate to replace their aging F-15 and F-16 aircraft. The only requirement that the Air National Guard obtain Joint Strike Fighters “sooner” arises from the “additional views” of Senator Chambliss in the report accompanying the FY2010 authorization bill.
In a letter to Senator Chambliss, the head of the Air National Guard Lt. Gen. Harry M. Wyatt III noted, "I believe the current and future asymmetric threats to our nation, particularly from seaborne cruise missiles, requires a fighter platform" such as the F-22. However, that threat is simply not present today. This is something that is being closely looked at now in the on-going QDR debate. When asked about the cruise missile threat during our committee hearing recently, Secretary Gates correctly noted that the most effective counter to these sorts of threats is an aircraft that doesn’t have a pilot inside of it.
Argument: Large-scale production of F-35 Joint Strike Fighters have only recently begun and have not yet increased to planned higher annual rates. Until production of the Joint Strike Fighter has been successfully demonstrated at those planed higher annual rates, it would be imprudent to shut down the F-22 production line, which is the only “hot” fifth-generation production line.
Response: Given how relatively similar the development and manufacturing efforts supporting the Joint Strike Fighter are to those supporting the F-22, concerns about an overall compromise in the industrial base appear to be overstated. In addition, whatever moderate risk may arise from ending the F-22 program now is operationally acceptable: it is short-term in duration and, under the Air Force’s Combat Air Force (CAF) restructure plan, necessary for the Air Force to transition the current fleet to a smaller, more capable fifth-generation fighter force for all the Services.
It is true that “full-rate production” of the Joint Strike Fighter isn’t anticipated until 2015, the program is making very meaningful progress. But, maturation in the technical, software, production-processes, and testing aspects of the program are on track to plan and are in fact exceeding legacy standards—including those for the F-22. All 19 “systems development and demonstration” aircraft will roll out by the end of the year and major assembly on the 14 aircraft comprising the earlier “low-rate initial production” (L-RIP) lots have begun. At this point, the first of those copies are expected to be delivered on time to Eglin Air Force Base in May 2010 and the first operationally capable versions of the fighter are expected to be delivered to the Marine Corps in 2012; the Air Force, in 2013; and the Navy, in 2015.
Now, this is not to say that we should take our eyes off the program. We need to track continuously progress on the F-35 to ensure that development costs leading to production remain stable.
I am persuaded, as I hope you are, that the on the issue of whether or not the F-22 program should continue, the President, the Secretary of Defense, the Chairman and the Vice-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Air Force Chief of Staff, and the Secretary of the Air Force are all correct: ending the F-22 program now is vital to enabling the Department to bridge its current fighter capability to a more capable fifth-generation fighter force that is best equipped to both meet the needs of our deployed forces today and the emerging threats of tomorrow.