It is becoming a drumbeat of supporters of the F-22 and the F-35: We built them. Let's use them when conditions are right.
When Iran appeared to be on track for developing a nuclear weapon, F-22 advocates wondered why they weren't deployed to the Mideast. Defense Secretary Robert Gates was accused of holding them back so he wouldn't give the F-22 ammunition to prove its worth soon after he capped the buy at 187.
Now advocates are arguing that the world's most capable tactical aircraft should be used to enforce a no-fly zone in Libya. It can, advocates note, survive in an area defended by the best opposing anti-aircraft systems and it can destroy them. This is being linked with calls -- mostly from Republicans but Democrats are speaking out as well -- to do something to help the Libyan opposition against the badly tailored and worse coiffed man who sort of leads the country: Muammar Gaddafi.
In a piece titled, "U.S. Fifth Generation Fighters Could Enforce No-Fly Zones," the Lexington Institute's Dan Goure argues for the plane's deployment: "Apparently, the Secretary forgot that he has an airplane specifically designed to operate in contested airspace, full of hostile SAMs and aircraft."
Goure is certainly not alone in his sentiment but few others are willing to take the public stage yet to argue for the F-22's use over Libya. Some airpower advocates would like to see the first F-35s used over Libya to prove just how capable they are. And Goure notes that F-35 would be even more useful in Libya, especially the F-35B, the vertical take-off plane being built for the Marines.
This argument is being played out not only in terms of aircraft, but also in terms of national will, decisiveness and the fact that power unexercised is irrelevant. If the Obama administration -- and Defense Secretary Robert Gates -- shies away from a fight as good as this one appears to be, then when will America use its enormous power for good.
Goure opens his piece this way: "The debate over the imposition of a no-fly zone is paralyzed by the specter of the U.S. having to attack Libyan surface to air missile (SAM) sites as a precursor to such an operation. Secretary of Defense Gates effectively shut down discussion of the no-fly option when he asserted in testimony that such an operation would begin with attacks on Libyan SAM sites."
And he ends it with this argument for the muscular use of power: "The idea that the will of the Free World and the ability of the U.S. military to operate where and when it chooses can be stymied by the threat from the obsolescent, poorly-maintained and badly trained Libyan air defense system is ludicrous."
Expect more and more of this sort of debate as the next presidential election approaches.