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  • The Memes That Killed The F-22
    Posted by Bill Sweetman 12:00 PM on Jul 24, 2009

    It would take a roomful of media scholars a month to dissect two days' worth of blog and columnist comment on the Senate's almost-certainly-terminal blow to the F-22 program. On the other hand, there is little denying that several memes - that is, ideas that replicate like viruses, to the point where people repeat them without needing to cite their sources - appear in many commentaries. I would guess that a large majority of the chattering classes hit at least four of the following seven: .

    Meme number 1: The F-22 hasn't been used in Afghanistan or Iraq. In itself this is a statement of the obvious. What makes it a meme is the corollary that the F-22 is militarily irrelevant. However, there are many capabilities that haven't been used in those theaters - submarines, for instance - but nobody seems to panic as we keep spending money on those.

    Meme number 2:  The F-22 was an airplane that the Pentagon did not want. Since when has the Pentagon been of one mind? The right number of F-22s was the subject of controversy within the Pentagon;  and the firings of the two top Air Force leaders a year ago were clearly related to that argument. 

    Meme number 3:  The F-22 is a Cold War weapon and therefore obsolete. Again, no argument, the requirement was written in the Cold War - but the same can be said of supercarriers and submarines, the Virginia being a downsized Seawolf. The Joint Strike Fighter's basic requirement document, although it is post-Cold War, precedes the current conflict, Bosnia and the other unexpectedly messy contingencies that have followed Desert Storm. It wasn't designed to chase Terry Taliban around the Af-Pak border, any more than the F-22 was.

    Meme number 4: The F-22 was designed to shoot down enemy fighters, and there are few of those so we need few F-22s.  But as anyone who was around for the start of the project knows, the combination of speed, altitude and all-round stealth was aimed - absolutely and intentionally - at defeating SAMs. 

    Meme number 5:  The F-22 is an unreliable hangar queen - the WaPo said so. So coincidentally, just before a narrow vote, all sorts of Pentagon sources decide it's their duty to leak all kinds of negative (but arguable) stuff about the F-22. It might have been that way. Barney might be a real dinosaur. 

    Meme number 6:  The JSF will cost "half as much" as the F-22. It's more correct to say that the F-35A may get to that point (the B and C certainly won't), once full-rate production gets going, if from now on the program performs far better than any previous Pentagon project. Which, so far, it has not done. Even then, to do this it has to break the model under which similar aircraft, built under similar circumstances, tend to cost about the same amount in terms of dollars per pound of empty weight. Nobody has done that yet, either. 

    Meme number 7: The F-22 takes money away from the "warfighters" and their real needs. Apart from being a handy emotive criticism of any weapon that you don't like that's not a container-load of body armor or a one-war-wonder MRAP, it's not correct. What the USAF has been talking about for years is - given that you're going to maintain a fighter force - what the right mix of F-22s and F-35s might be within a given budget.

    Upshot: Regardless of whether you think it was smart or not to kill the F-22, the public argument has been dominated by assumptions that are, at best, unproven. 

    Tags: ar99, f-22, jsf

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