Phil Gingrey: Raptor crucial to maintaining air dominance
The future of American air dominance is manufactured right here in Marietta.
Thanks to the hard work of nearly 3,000 Cobb County and broader Metro Atlanta area residents - as well as nearly 25,000 other Americans in 44 states - Lockheed's F-22A Raptor has allowed the U.S. to achieve battle-space dominance through uncompromised performance, both air-to-air and air-to-ground.
In recognition of this, the Air Force has repeatedly stated that it needs a minimum of 381 F-22s in order to ensure air supremacy decades into the future. The Air Force also believes this is the minimum number necessary to replace hundreds of decades-old F-15 aircraft, a fleet which has recently been grounded due to lingering safety concerns following the loss of an aircraft in 2007 due to structural failure.
The Department of Defense, however, has only authorized the procurement of 183 of these vastly superior F-22 fighters. In fact, the DOD is considering ceasing production of the Raptor altogether following completion of the current multi-year procurement contract. Under this scenario, production line shutdown activities would begin later this fall.
Concerns with the F-15 fleet notwithstanding, this conclusion is even more troubling when considering that the DOD is several years away from full-rate procurement of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, resulting in a critical gap in our nation's air capability. During the years between F-22 line closure and JSF procurement, we know that potentially unfriendly nations such as China and Russia will continue developing Raptor-like fighters that will threaten our air superiority.
The U.S. simply cannot maintain its status as a superpower in the skies and protect our airspace if we continue to rely upon an aging fighter force while our adversaries build newer, more capable aircraft.
I disagree with the DOD's proposed course of action, as does the Air Force. I have written a letter - signed by nearly 70 Members of the House of Representatives - to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, urging him to take my concerns, and the recommendations of the Air Force, under advisement.
My letter encourages the DOD to continue with procurement of the Raptor by including sufficient funds in the Fiscal Year 2009 Budget to allow for the production of at least another lot of 20 planes.
While the future of the F-22 will be clearer once the President's budget request is revealed to Congress in early February, Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordon England has suggested in recent days that the DOD may opt to seek approval to procure an additional four F-22 aircraft as part of the Fiscal Year 2009 Global War on Terror Supplemental Budget Request.
As a result, some are suggesting that this will satisfy my concerns and further keep the production line open once the current multi-year contract expires. Neither suggestion is true. Without including funds for long-lead advanced procurement of parts and supplies in the Fiscal Year 2009 budget, it will make it difficult to continue with production once the orders already on the books are satisfied. And, at current production rates, the four additional aircraft cited by Secretary England will only amount to two months of work on the line.
Many of our most highly decorated military veterans believe that Americans, still war-weary from our current conflicts, will be reluctant to support injecting ground troops into battle for many years to come, instead preferring to project power from the air and sea. The decisions made by the DOD today will determine whether we have adequate resources tomorrow to effect this outcome.
It is therefore critical we heed the calls of the Air Force - and DOD's own independent studies - to continue with procurement of the F-22 beyond the current multi-year contract.
U.S. Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-Marietta) represents the 11th Congressional District in Congress.