Murtha Ups F-22, Downs EFV

Murtha Ups F-22, Downs EFV

Rep. Jack Murtha, chairman of the House is digging deep to find $3.2 billion for 20 more Raptors to keep the F-22 line going and is closely watching the debate about an export version for Japan. He expressed amazement that the Marine’s EFV has an aluminum underbody that wouldn’t be much good against mines or IEDs. Murtha told this and much more to defense journalists. Read Christian Lowe’s take on the breakfast below.

As you all well know, I’ve been dogging Rep. John Murtha, the powerful chairman of the House Appropriations Committee’s defense subcommittee, pretty hard ever since his fly-off-the-handle accusation of murder by a squad of Marines in Haditha back in mid-2006.

Well, I nervously attended a roundtable interview this morning in DC with Murtha and a group of the country’s top defense writers — figuring I might get the cold shoulder from the Democratic Bull. But I was surprised to find that he was remarkably candid, brewing with news and even friendly. A far cry from the confrontational chairman I’d peppered with questions in the past.


He said a lot of stuff on defense tech issues — info we’re going to build into longer stories in the coming hours — but what I thought I’d do is give you all a data dump of the basics of what he said…a sort of tear out of the pages of my reporter’s notebook, if you will:

Tanker — Murtha said he was strongly in favor of a split buy because he thought no matter who “wins” a recompete, there will be yet another protest that will delay the fielding and hamper global reach efforts. He wants a production throughput of three planes per month which he says even with the split buy, will save money in the long run because of the near crushing maintenance costs of keeping the KC-135s aloft. Murtha had just met with DefSec Gates the previous day, and though Gates has said publicly he’s against a split buy, Murtha said “I don’t know that he’s against it” hinting that the White House might be driving that argument and Gates might have some flexibility on the issue.

Raptor — Lots here. First, Murtha is against the shut down of the F-22 line for what he says are purely national security issues. He says he’s going to try and find $3.2 billion (my notes said $20B but i re-listened to the recording and he said $3.2B — not sure why I wrote $20B) to build 20 more next year and has asked Gates to provide him with some national security threat estimates that would justify NOT buying more Raptors. Murtha says he’s concerned about a rising China competing for energy resources in the coming years and noted that “World War II started because we cut off Japan’s energy supply” (though I gather some historians would object to that characterization). Murtha said he’s 50/50 on whether he can get the money for more F-22s, but he said “Lockheed has given up” on getting the extra orders.

Also, Murtha touched on the issue of an export version of the F-22 — principally to Japan who says only the F-22 can meet its range and speed requirements for a new interceptor. Murtha said Sen. Daniel Inouye is working with Japan to come up with the cash needed to “de-militarize” the F-22 (to remove the secret gadgets and gizmos from the US version) which he estimates will be around $300 million. Murtha thinks that’s way too optimistic and that gutting the F-22 for export will cost more along the lines of $1 billion.

Murtha said he’s worried about the high cost of maintaining the Raptor as well — that it might be difficult to bring that cost under control and will contribute to major sticker shock among lawmakers (and a White House) who are looking for money to spend elsewhere.

F-35 — Murtha said he was just as worried about the long term costs of the F-35 and the delays in production and technological maturity with that program as he is with the travails of the F-22. He said that even though the JSF is a priority for the Obama administration, his committee may not give them the requested money for 2010. “I’m for the F-35. I’m for buying the F-35. But I’m not necessarily for buying it this year.”

EFV — Murtha was stunned when his staff learned that the EFV had an aluminum underbody that would be warm butter to a mine or IED when ashore. He told the commandant that the EFV program was “on the bubble” and that he’d better get control of it and make good on the billions invested in the program already. Murtha talked to Gates about the EFV as well at his meeting the previous day and revealed that Gates has his critical eye on the program as well. “This has been going on for 25 years, this research, and it’s expensive as hell. You can’t keep spending money on research and then come to us and say you’re just going to cancel the program. That’s just not acceptable.”

VH-71 (Prez Helo) — The bottom line is that Murtha wants to make use of the $3.2 billion already spent on the program to field at least some portion of the fleet that’s already been built or is close to being finished. He said there are nine choppers either built or nearly built that we should field. He also leveled sharp criticism at the Secret Service for loading down the program with unnecessary requirements — “We continue to try to convince the administration on the VH-71. … This was Secret Service who said we need all these things on this airplane. … They said they were going to push it off to the Obama administration and there was so much bad publicity about it, I think they reacted to the publicity.” Murtha said he tried to convince White House officials and Pentagon brass to keep the program and try to see how the Congress could salvage the money already spent. They reportedly told him “okay, okay” then they went ahead and cancelled it.

Join the Conversation

If you have seen my earlier comments on some other stories on this site, you know that I like airplanes. And I like high tech airplanes. But more than that, I like flexible, reliable airplanes that can fly often and can do the job that we will need for the next 15 years.

Every generation of aircraft is far more expensive than the last, and goes through a long learning curve. To hold down costs the AF only puts in one engine and one person (these days we are even taking out the person).

The F-22 looks like a tremendous aircraft but it costs 142 million a piece. Couldn’t we buy five F-15E aircraft for that price?? If you want an interceptor — an F-15E stationed hundreds of miles closer to the air defense zone would get there a lot faster than an F-22 stationed hundreds of miles further away. Why not buy five F-15Es and spread them out around your borders? And the F-15E has one guy to fly and one guy to stare at the target — avoiding too many more accidental mis-identifications.

The F-35 is supposed to cost 41 million each.

We do need to update our technology at some point and buy newer aircraft but the F-22 has even crossed my threshold for “Too Expensive”.

And Rep Jack Murtha is supporting them hoping to one day see the F-22 “Murtha” flying out of the “Murtha Airport To Nowhere”.

The F-22 is “too expensive” because we aren’t buying enough of them. The B-2 was also “too expensive” because we only bought 21..at an average cost of $2 billion each. If we had bought the 120 or so that was originally planned, then the cost per airframe would have gone down to about $350million each. If you put $50billion R&D into an aircraft, and only buy one airframe, then you just spent $50billion for a plane. This of course ignores the fact that the new technology developed as a result of the R&D can be used on other projects, but that complicates our pricing estimates a bit :)

In any case, one F-22 would make quick work of five F-15Es…you only need to dig up the 2007 (or was it 2008?) red flag results to see this. The blue team (something like 12–15 F-22s with most of the pilots having less than 100 hours in the plane) outscoring the red team about 240–2. Let’s not forget that the red team are generally much more experienced, skilled pilots. One of the F-22 kills was supposedly a WVR kill when he went against 3 F-16s and after killing two of them, had a mutual kill with the third.

And lets face it, F-15s will not be dominant against all of the current and future 4th and 4+. Our goal is complete technological superiority, not parity, against any potential adversary. Buying five F-15s instead of one F-22 does not help us in the future conflicts that the F-22 was designed for.

Ordinarily, I agree with Alex. In this case we are substantially in agreement but it leads to a different conclusion.

Yes the F-22 is expensive in part due to the small number being built. But we are also paying a big stealth penalty for a capability that has not really paid off. Today, fighters or bombers ingressing would be flying over an area largely sterilized by cruise missiles, and stealth would not be a deciding factor. Similarly bomber’s stealth has not proven to be worth the money.

And the aircraft would not ordinarily be flying against each other, but more against ground targets. The F-15E would be very resistant to the Blackhawk shootdown scenario like in 1994 and Operation Provide Comfort. The F-22 would have less capability to avoid that.

And the ability to have 5 airframes distributed around an area would be a great advantage to reacting to problems.

Hopefully the AF will de-emphasize stealth so that we can more control the rapid increase in cost per airframe.

In my opinion, lobbyists control Congress and the F-22, the world’s greatest air superiority fifth generation fighter, and its demise…it may have had some promising news today, but it will die on the Senate floor in two weeks because of the veto threat from the administration.

The “problem” is that the F-22 is being fielded during an unconventional war with a Democratic administration and Congress. It was designed and initially produced with the belief that its production line never being shut down due to politics i.e. voters and white collar jobs. We live in a current news cycle society fueled with Twitter driven by national and international perceptions and polls. These perceptions and polls drive the administration’s defense acquisition policies (along with the voting majority power in Congress and their pay back for the last eight years on the sidelines).

The current battlefield engagement strategy determines the future of defense acquisitions (look at our history and you’ll see something familiar). We’ll see how the Quadrennial Defense Review’s recommendations will be written to support the current administration’s defense acquisition strategic plan i.e. cheaper systems. Defense spending will dramatically decrease once we are out of Iraq. A smaller force will continue to kill “Taliban” fighters in Afghanistan to keep the polls in the positive.

I’m not a proponent of the F-22 or F-35 simply because we have the technology to build stealthy unmanned platforms that would be capable of surpassing any of the F-22’s capabilities. The F-35 is desired by the current administration and Congress because it can be sold for a profit to other nations. Any profits in this current recession would help pay for national healthcare and other proposed socialized programs.

Unfortunately for the fighter pilot community, computers and satellites are the future of conventional and unconventional aerial warfare. Range, speed, duration, maintenance, capability, performance and COST are significantly enhanced over manned systems due to the survival systems required for these manned platforms. The Reaper unmanned aerial killing machine is the concept of an unmanned fifth generation fighter that should be developed instead of the manned F-22 or F-35 aircraft.

Nuclear deterrence died after the cold war and the axis of evil nations are not deterred by the F-22 or “Shock and awe” bombing campaigns. Iran and Nk continue to thumb their nose at us because of the administration’s reaction to France’s polls and perceptions. They are however, “scared” to death of the Reaper though…in my opinion.

Check six.

Chief K knows what he is talking about!! Thanks for the insight. He is right when he observes that the QDR’s recommendations are written to support what the President says is the military strategy of the day. UAVs are certainly in our future but I hope they are in addition to aircraft with aircrews. Not a replacement.

Now I don’t like Murtha, but I agree that we need more F-22s. In fact I think we should actually have more than the Air Forces scaled down requirement of 381. Yes the F-22A costs some $130 million now, but largely due to how much the order has been cut over the years.

Regarding UAVs, there has not yet been a UCAV developed to the standard of today’s fighters with radar guided air-to-air missiles, and the ability to reach supersonic speeds. The next generation UCAVs like Northrop’s X-47B are going to be relatively slow, stealthy strike/reconnaissance aircraft with a long loiter time. They won’t be air superiority machines.

When you design a UCAV with powerful fuel hungry engines, an advanced radar, and the capability to fire long range air-to-air and cruise missiles, it probably isn’t gonna cost that much cheaper than a manned aircraft. Even if it does, we still want some manned birds anyway.

Screw idiot liberal bloggers and anti-military nuts spreading lies about our equipment on Twitter. These people should not be involved in defense acquisition. Although having the Democrats in charge is hardly better. Our military is gonna be in bad shape to fight any sort of conventional conflict after these fools slice up the budget.

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