While we’re excited by Defense Secretary Gates’s decision to halt production of the F-22 at 187 planes, there is a lot of disbelief and confusion surrounding this decision. The confusion started as soon as the decision was announced, when Tony Capaccio at Bloomberg News asked Gates about it:
Q: The F-22 decision is going to get scrutinized, now that your budget has emerged from the shadows, so to speak. Can you give a sense of whether this was a close call or a no-brainer? And once–and why–why couldn’t you have bought more? Why wouldn’t–why wouldn’t it fill the role that the Joint Strike Fighter will be filling, that you outlined?
GATES: For me, it was not a close call. And the basic conclusion was that, first of all, we have fulfilled the program. I mean, it’s not like we’re killing the F-22. We will have 187 of them. That has–the 183 of that has been the program of record, as I recall, since 2005. So we are completing the F-22 program. And the military advice that I got was that there is no military requirement for numbers of F-22s beyond the 187.
Q: But the Air Force advice. They’ve been badgering you with all sorts of analysis that they’d need 60 more.
GATES: That was their advice as well.
Q: It was their advice as well…
Q: … that you didn’t need more than 187?
Q: Really? OK.
Air Force magazine has been working on figuring out whether this is really what the Air Force wants, given that Air Force National Guard Chief General Craig McKinley said as recently as February 26 that they need more than 183–and yes, 187 is technically more than 183, but not meaningfully so. Gates has been somewhat cagey, but has conceded that some services were clearly not happy with his decisions. But Air Force magazine found that even Gates’s spokesman, Geoff Morrell, is unclear on the hopes of the Air Force versus the dreams of DoD:
Q: The Air Force has been saying for some time that 183 is not enough. Gen. Schwartz said in his confirmation hearings that 381 was too high but 183 was too few. Adm. Mullen said last fall that he thought the Air Force’s number was 60 more.
A: Mullen said the Air Force should get 60 more?
Q: Mullen said that it was his understanding that the Air Force wanted ‘about 60’ more F-22s.
A: Well, that was some time ago. And as I say, this process has been underway for some months.
Q: So, to put a fine point on it, the Air Force never recommended buying more than the 187 aircraft?
A: That is correct.
The fact that the Air Force won’t come out and openly disagree with Gates may be an indicator that there is real reform happening far as how business is done at DoD. And if so, Gates’ procurement strategy not only reflects an emphasis on prioritizing current military threats, but also a method for effectively targeting the usual “guerilla warfare” employed by the services and the Hill to protect pet projects.
But one thing that there’s absolutely no confusion about is that Congress is prepared to fight back on these cuts. Needless to say, we’re rooting for the public’s best national security interests over Congress’s parochial concerns.