Retired Navy Vice-Admiral Jack Shanahan is out with an op-ed (in the Austin American-Statesman) , calling for termination of the Air Force's F-22 fighter program. Shanahan, who once commanded the U.S. Second Fleet, views the F-22 as a Cold War relic, no longer relevant for a long war against terrorism.
Admiral Shanahan now chairs the military advisory committee of the Priorities! campaign, run by a group called Business Leaders for Sensible Priorities. Established in 1998, the group apparently believes that the nation's defense spending actually jeopardizes national security, by wasting money that could be spent on more productive pursuits, such as education and alternative energy sources. From the group's website:
"Top American businesspeople believe that the federal government's spending priorities are undermining our national security. Advised by retired admirals and generals, Business Leaders for Sensible Priorities' 650 members include the present or former CEOs of Bell Industries, Black Entertainment Television, Goldman Sachs, Men's Warehouse, and Phillips Van Heusen - as well as Ted Turner and Paul Newman."
In other words, the usual, liberal suspects. On the military side, (along with Admiral Shanahan), the "advisory committee" includes former CIA Director Admiral Stansfield Turner, and former Assistant Secretary of Defense Frank Korb, who served in the Reagan Administration. Next to the website description of the military advisory committee, there's a flashing bar chart that compares U.S. defense spending to that of our adversaries, and the paltry amounts spent on the group's favored programs, in contrast to the Pentagon budget.
It's ridiculously easy to pick apart the group's "arguments." Admiral Shanahan and his committee fail to mention that over half the DOD budget goes toward personnel costs, including military pay, retiree pensions and sky-rocketing health care costs for active duty personnel, retirees and their dependents. Additionally, the advisory committee fails to mention that the defense budgets for other nations are only estimates--and probably poor estimates at that. In the case of China, for example, much of the military spending and resources are hidden in the various commercial enterprises and front companies controlled by the People's Liberation Army. Factor in funding for those establishments, and the PRC's defense budget rises by another 20-40%. In that regard, the "gap" cited by the committee isn't as large as they'd have you believe and it's closing, as China increases its annual defense spending by double-digit margins.
You've also got to question the "priorities" championed by the group. $10 billion for renewable/sustainable energy programs? Never mind that most of these efforts are technical pie in the sky, and that some of these schemes--such as ethanol--will supply only a fraction of our energy needs, even if full production is realized. How about $10 billion for new schools? Sounds good, but if the schools aren't meeting their educational mission--and many aren't--it doesn't matter how new the building is. Besides, many of the policy goals cited by the group have a long history of wasting taxpayer dollars, with far less to show for the effort than military weapons programs.
But Admiral Shanahan devotes most of his op-ed to the F-22, and I'll address my comments to his critique. He says the F-22 was developed to provide a stealth capability against improving adversary air defenses, but a funny thing happened: their air defenses stopped improving.
What a crock. As with many of his claims, Shanahan carefully cherry-picks the data, ignoring relevant facts. Truth is, air defenses in Russia and China have dramatically improved over the past decade, with the introduction of modern, long-range SAM systems, such as the SA-10/20 and the SA-12. Both are at least equal (and in some ways, superior) to the U.S.-made Patriot and pose a serious threat to the current generation of "legacy" fighters (F-15/F-16). These advanced SAMs are now being marketed around the world, and will eventually wind up in countries like Iran and Syria.
In the air, those "unbeatable" F-15s and F-16s face an increasing threat from the latest generation of Russian and European fighters, equipped with advanced radars and air-to-air missiles. As we discovered during recent COPE INDIA exercises with the Indian Air Force, a late-model SU-27/30 FLANKER, in the hands of a skilled pilot, is more than a match for an F-15 or F-16. To ensure air dominance--a linchpin of our overall military strategy--we need a platform that widens the gap between our capabilities, and those of potential adversaries. Enter the F-22. As we've noted before, the Raptor's blend of stealth and supercruise will guarantee air dominance for decades to come. On the other hand, sticking with the F-15 and F-16 will make it more difficult to sustain control of the skies, and force more expenditures in other areas, notably ground-based air defenses. Afterall, if the Air Force can't dominate the skies, then the Army will need more SAMs on the ground.
It's easy to say the F-22 is irrelevant in a war against terrorists. But military planners cannot focus exclusively on that threat. Beyond the struggle against Islamofacists, the Pentagon must also field forces capable of dealing with more conventional threats, on both a regional and global level. By the end of this decade, China alone will field close to 300 FLANKERs, with dozens of SA-20s for ground-based air defense. Those systems are also expected to be deployed in the Middle East and even the western hemisphere. Against that threat array, America needs an advanced fighter, capable of "kicking down the door" against evolving air and ground-based threats.
Admiral Shanahan is entitled to his opinions, but his depiction of the threat--and the air assets needed to defeat it--is completely distorted and unrealistic. Maybe that's the result of hanging out with Ted Turner and Paul Newman. In the case of Admiral Shanahan, we should be thankful that he's on the retired list, and no longer in a position to influence defense policy. His ideas on national security are far more threatening than the "wasteful" and "irrelevant" F-22.