On 8 July 2005, Jane’s reported:

It is the best and worst of times for the Lockheed Martin F/A-22 Raptor fighter. Last year, the fighter emerged from a long and arduous development programme with a successful initial operational test and evaluation (IOT&E) programme, which demonstrated that the F/A-22 represents a vast increase in survivability and lethality over any other fighter. The aircraft was proceeding towards full-rate production at a unit cost which, although high, was at least stable. Avionics problems which had crippled flight testing in 2001-02 had been largely solved and the aircraft was well on its way to approval for full-rate production, which was attained in April.

At the end of the year, however, a leaked memorandum – Program Budget Decision (PBD) 753 – from the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) threw the programme’s entire future into jeopardy, by planning to terminate production in Fiscal Year 2008 (FY08), after the delivery of 178 aircraft. Before that, the programme had been working with a fixed total cost cap and a flexible production number; OSD budgeteers expected to see 279 aircraft produced, while the USAF hoped for more. The lower number has several implications, all of them negative.  (more…)

Shouldn’t this have already been decided?  And isn’t it a little late to decide that maybe you don’t want these airplanes after all?  The only thing more wasteful than going ahead and buying the needed number of the expensive, most advanced fighter in the world that you have spent years and billions to develop, is to buy too few and then turn around and start a new development program for another fighter, or buy something that is not as good only to wish that you would have had more of the better plane to begin with.

The F-22 may be expensive, and it may have have taken longer and cost more to develop than we would like for future projects.  But it is what we have.  Those who are so worried about cost should ask if the U.S. has the luxury to spend billions of dollars and years of hard work on a project, only to throw it away right when it’s ready to deploy.

This is the same thing we did with the Commanche, the replacement for both the Cobra and the Apache attack helicopters.  We spent billions of dollars and years of hard work developing the Commanche, which was right on the verge of going into production, only to cancel it, with nothing else in the pipeline to replace one old (Apache) and another older (Cobra) system.

I have not seen any official numbers on this, but it seems to me that the long-term waste of conducting R&D on a system and bringing it all the way to the point of production and then cancelling or drastically scaling it back wastes more money than is saved in the short run by producing fewer units.  I could be wrong. 

Even if it is not more expensive, it does lengthen the development time (already very long) for new weapons.  In the case of both the B-1 and B-2 bombers, a lot of time and money were spent on advanced strategic bombers, only to have programs cut at the last minute.  Now, even though we spent decades and billions of dollars developing those two aircraft, B-52s which are 50 years old are still in service and still without a replacement.  The same is about to happen for Cobra, Apache, and the F-15 if enough F-22s are not purchased.

We need to make a decision and stick with it.  If not, we will have spent billions of dollars only to continue to rely on old equipment.

Source: Bill Sweetman, "Revolution in the balance: budget cuts threaten F/A-22 programme," Jane’s (8 July 2005).