Retired F-22s should go to Japan, not the boneyard

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Originally published by Asia Times

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Pentagon wants to scrap not upgrade the fighters but they can still play a major deterrent role in the Pacific against China

The Pentagon wants to retire dozens of F-22s rather than upgrade them, with the Department of Defense saying it can use the US$1 billion or so saved to upgrade its forces elsewhere.

But these F-22s are very important and sending them into retirement when they can be a very effective deterrent for others is potentially a major mistake. Japan (like Israel) has long wanted F-22s, which can play a major deterrent role in the Pacific and challenge almost anything China throws at them.

If they are removed from service, these two dozen F-22s will go to the boneyard at the Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson, Arizona. There, they will slowly rot in the sun and some of their parts may be scavenged by the Air Force.

The F-22 is a very capable and very expensive airplane. Brand new, the flyaway cost was $120 million when the first aircraft entered service in 2005. Translated into current dollars, the cost for a new one would be $182 million.

But the per plane cost also should include research and development, which would bring the 2005 cost to $334 million, or $507 million in 2022 dollars.

Calculated that way, the value of the two dozen F-22 aircraft the Air Force wants to retire is around $12.2 billion – assuming they were in good shape, which they are not.

The Air Force has admitted that the cost of upgrading all the F-22s planned for retirement would be just shy of $1 billion, a fraction of the investment so far.

Only the US has the F-22 and it remains a crucially important air superiority fighter.

The F-22 has a number of advantages compared with the cheaper, more tactical F-35. For starters, the F-22 has a smaller radar cross-section than the F-35, which sometimes is referred to as semi-stealthy. Moreover, the F-22:

  • is far more maneuverable than the F-35,
  • has a better thrust-to-weight ratio,
  • has two engines instead of one (a significant safety factor),
  • has greater firepower because the F-22 is a much larger platform and,
  • can operate at a higher ceiling.

Again, it can serve as an air superiority fighter, which the F-35 is not. While the F-35 is among the slowest of modern jet fighters at Mach 1.6, the F-22 is among the fastest at 2.25 Mach.

Where the F-22 is not as modern makes for a shorter list:

  • It does not have the more advanced electronics and computers of the F-35 and therefore is less suited to netcentric operations, and
  • It does not carry certain types of weapons (although it can be modified for them).

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