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USAF costs said to outstrip performance

By WINSLOW WHEELER, UPI Outside View Commentator   |   Aug. 21, 2008 at 2:51 PM   |   Comments

WASHINGTON, Aug. 21 (UPI) -- The U.S. Air Force has claimed huge, indeed "revolutionary," levels of success in actual air campaigns. One typically cited example is the air war of Operation Desert Storm against Iraq in 1991.

However, hardly a single one of the U.S. Air Force's claims of extraordinary success for its "silver bullets" and other high-cost and complex systems in its aerial arsenal was able to stand up to serious, independent scrutiny.

Moreover, the costs to acquire these "highly capable" systems are far more than what the advocates will tell you.

The U.S. dollar's value has inflated by a factor of 12 since the end of World War II in 1945. However, the cost of the Lockheed Martin/Boeing F-22 Raptor air superiority combat fighter has inflated by a factor of 273 compared with the cost of 1946-47 fighter aircraft.

It is certainly the case that the Lockheed Martin/Boeing F-22 Raptor performs at a level barely imagined in 1946 by the designers of the Air Force's first jet fighter, the Lockheed P-80 Shooting Star. But, just as surely, the Lockheed Martin/Boeing F-22 Raptor does not bring an increase in effectiveness against its likely enemies even remotely like its cost increase.

The "beyond visual range" radar-based air war that the Lockheed Martin/Boeing F-22 Raptor is highly specialized to fight, a hypothetical construct, is yet to be proven workable, let alone effective, in real-war aerial engagements involving more than a very few contesting aircraft.

Moreover, U.S. Air Force costs have so far outstripped performance that combat fighter aircraft like the Lockheed Martin/Boeing F-22 Raptor have become, quite literally, unaffordable. The more of them that the U.S. government buys, the weaker the United States becomes.

The conclusion to be drawn from analyzing these trends is very clear: Today, as it has each year since the mid-1990s, the U.S. Air Force is seeking additional funds, some of them in the form of "wish lists" to enable it to address its problems.

Specifically citing the shrunken size of the U.S. Air Force's aging aircraft inventory, the U.S. former Chief of Staff of the Air Force, four-star Gen. Michael Moseley, submitted an $18.7 billion list of "unfunded requirements" -- also known as a "wish list" -- to complement the $143.7 billion budget he had already submitted for 2009.

Taking into account the amount by which the 2009 budget already has been increased over and above the extrapolated 2001 plan for 2009, $35.4 billion, it is apparent that Moseley was actually seeking a $54.1 billion "plus-up."

Given the failure of the $200 billion plus boost that the U.S. Air Force received from 2001 to 2009 to stem, let alone reverse, the shrinking, aging, less ready nature of its air fleet, there is no reason to think that throwing still more money at the Air Force will do anything but perpetuate, if not deepen, the problems.

Clearly, a completely new modernization and operating strategy is needed for the U.S. Air Force. More money for business as usual will only result in more deterioration.

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(Winslow T. Wheeler is director of the Straus Military Reform Project at the Center for Defense Information, a Washington-based think tank.)

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(United Press International's "Outside View" commentaries are written by outside contributors who specialize in a variety of important issues. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of United Press International. In the interests of creating an open forum, original submissions are invited.)

© 2008 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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