Back in July, when Congress was weighing whether to extend production of the F-22 Raptor, one of the frequent arguments against doing so was that top military brass didn’t even want more of the world’s most advanced fighter jet. This claim wasn’t really correct, since some Air Force generals disagreed with the push to end F-22 production, but it became accepted wisdom because Defense Secretary Robert Gates came out against the fighter.
Now we learn that one of the primary reasons for this determination by Gates — that China, likely to be our biggest rival in the 21st century, was “projected to have no fifth generation aircraft by 2020″ — was dead wrong.
Aviation Week reports that Chinese military officials now say that they will soon be flight-testing a competitor to the F-22. The Chinese expect the jet to enter service in just eight to 10 years. Aviation Week quotes military analyst Richard Fisher explaining why this announcement — which just happens to come on the heels of President Obama’s trip to China — is a big deal:
“One has to assume that the People’s Liberation Army is confident in its projections, as it almost never makes such comments about future military programs, especially one that has been as closely held as its next-generation fighter.
“As such, one has to be asking very hard questions: How did the U.S. intelligence community get this one wrong? And inasmuch as no one expects the F-35 to replace the F-22 in the air superiority role, is it time to acknowledge that F-22 production termination is premature and that a much higher number is needed to sustain deterrence in Asia?”
Deterrence is the key word here. As I wrote back in July, the last thing we want is for emerging powers like China to get the idea that they may have overtaken us militarily — and especially in air superiority, an invaluable status that we have spent decades protecting. A second analyst, Andrew Brookes, told Aviation Week that China most likely isn’t bluffing here:
“The Russians have the technology and the Chinese have the money,” [Brookes] says. “If they really set that as a target, then I think they can do it.”
The other major concern at the time the decision was made was the budget, as the White House had suddenly become worried about its image of fiscal profligacy. A Senate committee wanted to spend $1.75 billion this year to keep F-22 production going, while a House committee had tagged $369 million; the administration ensured that both plans were eventually quashed. But the fiscal responsibility claim was always ridiculous: Note that the House figure of $369 million is less than the feds have already awarded the Georgia Department of Transportation in “stimulus” spending.
Like I said at the time, this administration is penny-wise and trillion-dollar-foolish. Now we know that this foolishness could prove dangerous relatively soon.