For years the Air Force has been saying it needs 381 Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptors, despite the type’s current $200-million pricetag, including development costs. But former SecDef Donald Rumsfeld and, these days, his deputy Gordon England, opposed the fighter in favor of ostensibly cheaper F-35 fighter-bombers. (Which themselves now cost around $120 million apiece.) They capped production at 183, enough for just seven squadrons.
But that was before a 25-year-old F-15 literally disintegrated in mid-air as a result of airframe fatigue. The subsequent fleet-wide F-15 grounding prompted lawmakers to plead for more Raptors. Now it looks like the Pentagon will slip another four F-22s into a supplemental budget request, with perhaps more in the future.
Buying airplanes with the notorious “emergency” supplementals (which totalled nearly $200 billion last year) is how the Air Force and Congress kept the Boeing C-17 airlifter in production for years after the last formally budgeted example. And it might be a way to keep boosting the Raptor fleet.
But according to Aviation Week, Lockheed boss Bob Stevens warned that supplementals might just go the way of the dodo, what with the increasingly strained U.S economy and a skeptical Congress. “Critics in both parties have argued that the years-long [war] operations no longer can be called an emergency and should be considered in tandem with the routine budget request,” is how GovExec put it. But including all war costs in a single, traditional request will mean annual military budgets approaching $1 trillion — and that’s sure inspire some axe-sharpening.
That means extra F-22s will probably have to duke it out with F-35s, new tankers, rescue choppers and pricey satellites for dwindling Air Force dollars. Looks like 187 might be the new cap.