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Why We Need the Raptor

By Eugene Kim, None

The F-22 Raptor—one of the Air Force’s stealthy new fighter jets—is the sort of military project that the New York Times crowd loves to hate. It is incredibly expensive, it has not been used in either Iraq or Afghanistan, and it seems to be entirely useless in a world where our foes prefer decidedly low-tech means of destruction. Critics, including current Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, have been vocal in their calls to end procurement of the controversial fighter jet, currently stalled at 183 aircraft. But with all due respect to Secretary Gates—who has rescued the Pentagon from the nearly criminal incompetence and arrogance of his predecessor—those who call for the end of F-22 production are dead wrong.

After the end of the Cold War, many military procurement projects found themselves on the Congressional chopping block. The A-12 Avenger II—an all-weather, carrier-based strike bomber that suffered from massive cost overruns—was cancelled in 1991. Similarly, the XM2001 Crusader, a new howitzer that promised both mobility and accuracy but delivered neither, was struck from the list in 2002. But unlike these projects—which were real Cold War dinosaurs—the Raptor has proven itself to be a highly effective and necessary part of the Air Force’s inventory.

First and foremost, the Raptor promises to save American lives and end air combat against any potential adversaries in a decisive fashion. During a recent military exercise, dubbed “Northern Edge” by the Pentagon, the Raptor amassed a truly impressive virtual kill ratio against the F-15 and F-16 fighters that have been the de facto standard for aircraft designers all over the world. This simulated exercise, known as a “Red Flag,” pits highly skilled United States Air Force pilots against each other in mock combat. At the end of the fortnight-long excursion in Alaskan airspace, the pilots flying the Raptor had “shot down” 108 enemy planes without suffering a single loss.

While it is indeed unlikely that al-Qaeda or its ilk will field a significant air force in the near future, it is foolish to assume that every adversary that America faces will only be capable of cowardly attacks on civilians. If military action against Iran becomes necessary, the Air Force will need the stealth capabilities of the Raptor—which render it all but invisible against air-defense radars—in order to guarantee the total destruction of Iran’s nuclear and military assets without risking American lives. Similarly, if the People’s Republic of China were to threaten the Republic of China on Taiwan—as it did during 1996, when Taiwan held its second free presidential election—the Raptor could provide an important deterrent against Chinese land-based aircraft.

Looking into the future, the F-22 will also play an important role in creating a flexible and capable inventory for the Air Force. While many critics have pointed to the F-22’s absence from current theaters of operation as an example of its uselessness, they are missing the point. The Raptor is an air superiority fighter—a jet that is designed specifically to destroy an opponent’s air force with minimal losses. In this role, it is designed to complement and protect the new F-35 Lightning II, a new multifaceted fighter that can perform the more mundane but very necessary tasks of air-to-ground combat but lacks the F-22’s double-engine redundancy and is decidedly less stealthy when carrying any significant amount of weaponry.

Finally, the most compelling argument for the continued production of the Raptor is the fact that the F-15 Eagle—the Raptor’s predecessor—is more than three decades old. While the Eagle is, without a doubt, one of the finest fighter jets currently flying, it has begun to show its age in recent years. Last November, an Air National Guard F-15 simply disintegrated in mid-air, prompting the Air Force to ground most of the F-15 fleet. When structural problems—not a pilot error or a freak accident—were determined to be the cause of the crash, General John D.W. Corley announced that “the long-term future of the F-15 is in question.” If F-22 production is not resumed, the Eagle is slated to remain in service until 2025; the consequences of such a move could be devastating.

There is no question that military projects involve a great deal of time, money, and other resources. This is especially true of the F-22 program, which began in 1991. But, more often than not, the equipment procured by the Department of Defense has proven invaluable when the United States or its allies are under threat. The Raptor is not just another Cold War relic—it is a much-needed replacement for older equipment that will provide our soldiers and airmen with the tools they need to keep us safe. President Obama and Secretary Gates would do well to recognize this fact and issue a bipartisan call of support for the program.

Eugene Kim ’10, a Crimson associate editorial editor, is a History concentrator in Kirkland House.

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