Shooting down the future air force
Facing severe budget pressures, the Pentagon is developing plans to slash the Air Force's two prized fighter jet programs, according to Defense Department officials and outside experts.We also have to consider other potential adversaries like the Chicoms, who are in a mojor building mode right now. If we get in a fight with China 10 years from now, we would want these planes.
Military planners are debating options to scale back the Air Force's F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and the stealth F/A-22 fighter, as some defense officials question spending billions on weapons that have little use against terrorist networks and other unconventional threats.
Such a move would be an enormous blow to the Air Force, which has spent years developing the two weapons to replace its aging fleet of fighter jets. The budget cuts could encounter fierce resistance from lawmakers, including some from California, whose districts would be hit hard by the economic repercussions.
The Joint Strike Fighter program is projected to cost $245 billion, a price tag shared by the Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps and nine U.S. allies, including Britain, Canada, Australia, Denmark and Turkey. It is the Pentagon's most expensive weapons program, and the Air Force has by far the largest part of the budget; it hopes to purchase 1,763 of the planes to replace the F-16 fighter.
The Air Force also plans to acquire 179 F/A-22s, each costing about $345 million.
A Pentagon decision to scale back the programs would be the strongest signal yet of a significant change in strategic priorities. With Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld trying to transform the military to deal with unconventional threats, many say that weapons built for dogfights and eluding enemy radar are increasingly irrelevant.
"What does Al Qaeda's air force look like?" said one defense official working on the Pentagon's assessment, known as the Quadrennial Defense Review.