Did Politics Keep the F-22 Out of Libya?

Former Air Force ISR chief, Lt. Gen. David Deptula, just isn't buying the explanation given by Air Force leaders last week that distance is what kept the F-22 Raptor out of Operation Odyssey Dawn. Instead, political reasons likely kept the most advanced jet on Earth out of the fight, according to Deptula, an early advocate of using the jet to enforce the no-fly zone in Libya.

Former Air Force ISR chief, Lt. Gen. David Deptula, just isn’t buying the explanation given by Air Force leaders last week that distance is what kept the F-22 Raptor out of Operation Odyssey Dawn.

Instead, political reasons likely kept the most advanced jet on Earth out of the fight, according to Deptula, an early advocate of using the jet to enforce the no-fly zone in Libya. Basically, the F-22’s stealth would have negated much of the official need for coalition help since the jet is almost completely immune to Libya’s ancient air defenses, argues the Deptula, who retired last October.

“Because of the high degree of stealth of the F-22, its supercruise and ISR capabilities, it would not have required the destruction of the Libyan enemy air defense system to operate inside Libyan airspace,” writes Deptula in an email to DoDBuzz. This is especially true “given the make-up of the current Libyan air defenses (predominantly made up of SA-2, 3, 5, and 6s).  Accordingly, F-22s would be free to either engage any Libyan aircraft that took-off, or they could destroy LAF aircraft and/or helicopters on the ground at will.”

Thus, the United States could have knocked out Gadhafi’s air force without touching his air defense network, according to Deptula. This means, the U.S. could have just gone it solo and used the jets to take out Libya’s air force without any international help:

The desired effect of a no fly zone (NFZ) is to keep adversary aircraft from flying–using F-22s that could have been achieved without having to destroy enemy air defenses. That would have obviated the need for any other coalition partner from participating and therefore was not a desirable option politically–ergo a primary rationale for not using F-22s to impose a NFZ in Libya.  Using legacy, non-stealth aircraft, required the suppression/destruction of the Libyan integrated air defense system to proceed with the imposition of a NFZ, but it also allowed for the participation of the multiple nations that made up the coalition.

So by not using the F-22s, the U.S. had an excuse to put together a coalition.

He also acknowledges that threat conditions in the country may not have justified the use of the Raptor, leading to another reason to keep the F-22s at home; basically, the jets were overkill for the mission.

Keep in mind the former fighter pilot knows a thing or two about both the F-22 (he’s long been an advocate of actually using the jets instead of having them simply fly air show routines) and how to take over an enemy’s airspace; he was the joint task force commander for no-fly zone operations over northern Iraq in 1998 and 1999 and served as the principal attack planner for the air component of Operation Desert Storm in 1991.

Deptula also swats down speculation that the Raptor’s inability to use its datalinks to communicate with other jets was a driver behind leaving them behind.

“F-22s can communicate securely just fine with other aircraft,” writes Deptula in response to the notion that the plane’s. “You may be talking about data links, but if you applied that standard (multi-connectivity of all aircraft tied together by common data link) then many of the aircraft flying in the coalition would fail in that ability, also.”

“The bottom line is that the F-22 not deploying to the Libyan conflict was a political decision-not one having anything to do with capability,” adds Deptula.

While the F-22 is “optimized” for air-to-air combat as Air Force Secretary Michael Donley pointed out last week, they can carry two 1,000 pound JDAMs for air-to-ground missions. No, this isn’t nearly as good as a bomber or strike fighters like the F-15E but it still packs a punch and could have hit ground targets.

Still, other jets such as the Strike Eagle and Marine Corps  AV-8B Harrier carry a lot more of the air-to-ground munitions that have been used to chase down Gadhafi’s ground forces. Keeping them in the air unmolested means taking out Libyan air defenses, not just Libyan fighters. Some aviation experts also argue that the F-22s would require nearly as many “enablers” (support aircraft) as legacy fighters to carry out the Libyan mission.

I suspect the truth lies somewhere in between all the arguments laid out recently; the potentially overqualified Raptors would have cost a lot to deploy, might not be as efficient at hitting Gadhafi’s ground targets and would have hurt the justification for building an international coalition.