Two Pair of Twos

Almost every war sees the emergence of a weapon that is considered decisive or revolutionary. The English longbow – with its ability to kill in great numbers at long range – gave England’s armies the edge in medieval wars on the continent for nearly three centuries, but advances in protective armor plating and the development of gunpowder eventually ended the longbow’s effectiveness on the battlefield. The capital ships of the Royal Navy were crucial to maintaining the British Empire during the 19th century. During World War One, the tank restored maneuver to a battlefield brought to a stalemate by trench warfare. The Second World War saw the emergence of the importance of air power with the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, the Battle of Britain, and the D-Day invasion. The Gulf War introduced precision guided weapons that could destroy hardened and buried targets with minimal collateral damage.

The war on terrorism will be no different. Perhaps unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) – with their ability to operate in areas denied to U.S. ground troops to locate and destroy targets remotely without putting a pilot at risk – will be the revolutionary weapon of the war on terrorism. But more important is knowing that what is truly revolutionary about the war on terrorism is that although the military will be part of the war, it is not a war that ultimately will be won by the military. Indeed, this fact was recognized by soon-to-be-former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld in May 2005: "This conflict cannot be won by military means alone."

If the military is not the primary instrument for waging the war on terrorism, two weapon systems that are not needed are the F-22 Raptor and the V-22 Osprey.

The Air Force’s F-22 Raptor fighter/bomber was originally designed to achieve air superiority against advanced, futuristic Soviet tactical fighters that were never built. The F-22 is intended to replace the best air superiority fighter in the world today, the F-15 Eagle, but the U.S. Air Force has not faced an adversary that can seriously challenge it for air superiority. This is evidenced by the fact that the U.S. Air Force flew virtually unopposed in the Gulf War in 1991, in the 1999 air war over Kosovo and Bosnia, enforcing the no-fly zones in northern and southern Iraq from 1991 to 2003, and in Operation Iraqi Freedom.

F-22 supporters often cite a February 2004 exercise with the Indian Air Force – Cope India – where U.S. F-15s were defeated more than 90 percent of the time as a reason to replace aging F-15s and F-16s with the F-22. But in this exercise, U.S. F-15s were outnumbered 3- or 4-to-1, which is an unlikely scenario against likely adversaries – made apparent by a simple comparison of fighter aircraft inventories. The U.S. Air Force has some 600 F-15 Eagles and some 700 F-16 Fighting Falcons in the active-duty inventory (1,300 total tactical fighter aircraft). By comparison, Russia (no longer a peer military competitor) has about 900 fighter aircraft (less than 600 of which are more advanced MiG-29s and Su-27s that are near equals to the F-15 and F-16) in its inventory, China (a possible military competitor) has some 1,000 fighter aircraft (only 100 Su-27s), North Korea (a member of the "axis of evil") has a little over 500 fighter aircraft (30 Mig-29s), Iran (another member of the "axis of evil") has only 75 fighter aircraft (25 Mig-29s), and Syria (a country classified as a "rogue state") has 300 fighter aircraft (42 Mig-29s and 8 Su-27s). So even if it is possible in an exercise for relatively well-trained Indian pilots outnumbering U.S. fighters 3- or 4-to-1 (it is worth noting that the Indian Air Force only has 744 combat aircraft, of which only 125 are tactical fighters) to achieve high tactical success, it is difficult to see how potential adversaries would be able to similarly outnumber U.S. aircraft with fighters that are the equal of the F-15 and F-16.

Plus, the United States has other important advantages over potential adversaries, such as pilot training (U.S. pilots typically log more flying hours), aircraft maintenance, and airborne fighter control (e.g., airborne warning and control system, or AWACS).

The V-22 Osprey is a tilt-rotor aircraft that takes off and lands vertically like a helicopter but flies like an airplane by tilting its wing-mounted rotors to become propellers. Supporters of the V-22 argue that it has the operational flexibility of a helicopter but is twice as fast, can carry more troops, and has five times the range. To be sure, the V-22 is more capable than helicopters in terms of speed, range, and payload, but its advantages are not as great as advocates claim. If carrying a payload at maximum speed to maximum range is the only or most critical mission, then a plausible case could be made for the V-22. But the need to be able to project power from long-range or far inland is more of a convenient justification for the V-22 rather than a real operational requirement. Most Marine Corps ship-to-shore operations occur at distances far less than the maximum range of the V-22. And long-range inland operations would still require support from slower helicopters because the V-22 cannot carry enough heavy equipment or large amounts of supplies to support the troops it would be transporting.

In addition to not having the extent of increased capabilities promised by its advocates, the V-22 appears to be more susceptible to vortex ring state – a phenomenon common to all rotary aircraft – which causes the equivalent of stalling in a conventional fixed-wing aircraft and increases the likelihood of a catastrophic crash. Another potential problem for the V-22 is that if the rotors become stuck in the forward position (that is, while flying horizontally like an airplane), the aircraft cannot land because the rotor blades extend well below the fuselage and landing gear.

Normally, two pair of twos – four of a kind – would be a winning hand, but not the F-22 Raptor and V-22 Osprey. Originally, the Air Force planned to buy 438 F-22s at a total cost of $71 billion or $159 million per aircraft. According to the Government Accountability Office, the per unit cost of the F-22 (based on a program buy of 183 aircraft) will be $355 million – resulting in less than half the aircraft at more than twice the per unit cost. Canceling the F-22 would save more than $20 billion in future program costs. When the V-22 program entered full-scale development in 1986, the Pentagon planned to build 923 aircraft, with an average unit cost of $24 million. The current program plan calls for building 458 V-22s at a total cost of $50 billion, or $110 million each – in other words, the military will end up with fewer than half the aircraft at more than four times the original unit cost. Canceling the V-22 would save more than $40 billion in future program costs.

Instead of spending another $60 billion on the F-22 and V-22, a better bet would be to increase the investment in UAVs (currently only $10 billion over the next five years), special operations forces (currently $5 billion over the next five years), and training to learn the languages spoken throughout the Muslim world (less than a billion dollars over the next five years) – all of which are essential tools for fighting the war on terrorism.

Author: Charles V. Peña

Charles V. Peña is a senior fellow at the Independent Institute, a senior fellow with the Coalition for a Realistic Foreign Policy, a former senior fellow with the George Washington University Homeland Security
Policy Institute
, an adviser to the Straus Military Reform Project, and an analyst for MSNBC television. Peña is the co-author of Exiting Iraq: Why the U.S. Must End the Military Occupation and Renew the War Against al-Qaeda and author of Winning the Un-War: A New Strategy for the War on Terrorism.