Earlier this week, the U.S. Senate eliminated funding for additional F-22A Raptors and endorsed President Obama’s plan to build only 187 F-22s overall. This debate goes beyond fighter planes and encompasses federal spending priorities, fundamental shifts in defense policies, and the future of the U.S. military.
Air Force leaders have repeatedly testified they need 243 F-22s to maintain air superiority. The purchase of only 187 would leave the Air Force able to fly unchallenged in only one theater, not two. Led by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, the Pentagon is budgeting on the assumption that future U.S. military operations will resemble those of today, i.e., they will be dominated by counterinsurgency and irregular warfare.
Oddly, Congress is making big cuts even before the Quadrennial Defense Review, which is designed to tell our leaders what equipment the military needs. But changing the composition of our military is something that requires a straightforward national debate.
Having a military capable of winning only one major conflict raises the question of whether the United States will become a declining military power. By not investing in forward-looking technologies and sufficient quantities of platforms, we seem headed down that road.
Meanwhile, Congress and the president are eager to spend on domestic programs, such as the “stimulus” and nationalized health care. Defense spending isn’t the source of the federal government’s fiscal woes.
Providing for the common defense should not be a zero-sum exercise, as Gates seems to prefer. The Senate debate appeared to be about budgets, but this is an argument about strategy. The military has sized its force based on what the nation has asked it to do.
Many who criticize investment in next-generation platforms want to change American foreign policy. But weakening traditional military capabilities to force the United States to limit the scope of its global leadership is the wrong answer.
– Mackenzie Eaglen is the Heritage Foundation’s Research Fellow for National Security Studies.