24 March 2011

Spoke Too Soon?

In an earlier post, I mentioned a report that the F-22 Raptor might finally see some action over Libya, after watching Iraq and Afghanistan from the sidelines for five years. Alas, according to the Air Force Times, that seems to not be the case.

One might wonder why we wouldn't use "the most capable air superiority fighter" to accomplish a mission or two over Libya. Say, accompanying B-2's on their bombing runs... which is one of the things the F-22 is supposed to do, right?

Well, the article points to the fact that it can't communicate well with other aircraft as a big reason for not using it. Also, that it can't actually hit ground targets very well. So the Libyan Air Force's strategy of staying on the ground looks like a pretty effective counter-measure against the Raptor.

Other than its inability to communicate with the good guys or to make the bad guys go boom, it's a fine, fine aircraft. Technically, the only thing wrong with it is that it apparently doesn't support any of our actual mission needs.

Now, I'm not an operations guy. I'm not even an airplane guy. I really don't know much about what sort of capabilities this country requires when it comes to jet fighters. But I am an acquisitions guy and a techie. And I know the objective of acquisitions & system development is to deliver affordable systems that support mission needs. From where I sit, it seems like we've spent a whole lot of time & money developing a system that doesn't contribute to any of the various fights we're currently engaged in. Where I come from, that doesn't count as success.

Might the Raptor contribute to some future mission? Of course. And I can't say for sure that these hypothetical future scenarios aren't actually right around the corner. All I know is that given current operational and fiscal realities, the Raptor looks like a strange investment. I might even say an unfortunate investment. This isn't hindsight - I've been saying this sort of thing for a pretty long time now. Frankly, even if we start using it 10 years from now, I'm not sure that would quite make up for the long trail of non-contributions.

Is there a lesson to learn here? Maybe something about the wisdom of shortening our development timelines, using the budget to constrain the design and focusing our requirements on a prioritized set of real-world needs. The opposite of the FIST approach - spending decades and billions to develop a multi-role system that doesn't support any of the three major operations we're currently performing - leads to situations like the Raptor.

Someone once told me that the FIST approach would never have produced a weapon system like the F-22. My answer to that: precisely!

1 comment:

RhetTbull said...

We haven't used our ICBMs in Libya either. Does that mean we don't need them? The F-22 won't win any acquisition awards but don't confuse the requirement for a capability and how that capability was acquired. The F-22 gives the President options he otherwise would not have. When it comes to breaking things and killing people, i think options are a good thing. In the case of Libya, we didn't need those options.