November 13th, 2009 | Uncategorized | Posted by Military Times Online
By ANTONIE BOESSENKOOL, DEFENSE NEWS
Legally, the F-22 Raptor cannot be sold outside the United States. But the plane will be at the Dubai Air Show after having been absent from the Paris Air Show this summer.
Why the Raptor will fly in Dubai and didn’t fly in Paris has to do with the debate over how many F-22s the U.S. Air Force is buying, observers said.
Leading up to the Paris Air Show, discussion was still heated over that number. Now that the total has been effectively limited, bringing the plane to an international air show is a less sensitive proposition, said defense and aerospace analyst Loren Thompson of the Lexington Institute in Arlington, Va.
“The F-22 did not make it to the Iraq war and did not make it to the Paris Air Show, but now that it’s dead, it is making an appearance at Dubai,” he said. “I think the message is very clear: The political types over in the Pentagon wanted it gone. Now, it’s not a problem for them anymore.”
There was discussion of sending the plane to Paris, but around the time of the Paris Air Show, “What [Defense] Secretary [Robert] Gates and people around him did not want was to underscore how valuable the plane was at a time when they were trying to kill it,” Thompson said.
Now that the Air Force’s purchase has been limited to 187 planes, showing off the United States’ most advanced fighter jet is less sensitive. On the other hand, the F-22′s appearance at the Dubai show will come shortly after President Barack Obama signed the Defense Authorization Act for 2010, which includes language about a version of the aircraft for export.
By about six months from now, Gates, coordinating with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, is to submit a report to Congress on potential foreign military sales of the restricted aircraft. The report will include cost estimates for developing an “exportable version” of the F-22 and analysis of the strategic implications for the United States of such sales.
A second report will look at the effect on the U.S. aerospace industry of foreign F-22 sales, and the advantages and disadvantages of such sales for sustaining that industry.
“I don’t think that we’ve heard the end of the story on the F-22,” said John Pike, director of Global-Security.org, an Alexandria, Va., think tank focused on defense and intelligence. “There are people in the Air Force who still think we need twice as many [F-22s] as we’ve got on order. They are continuing to look for options as to how to keep that alive” and keep the production line open.
One option would be foreign sales, of course, and interested countries could include Israel and Japan.
“To maintain air supremacy beyond the foreseeable future, you go with the F-22,” Pike said. “Who wants to do that? The Israelis do and the Japanese do.”
But representatives from Lockheed Martin, the maker of the F-22, and the Air Force didn’t bite when asked about what the plane’s appearance in Dubai means for potential foreign sales.
“Our one customer is the U.S. Air Force, and any sales of F-22s to other countries would be determined by the USAF, Department of Defense and State Department, subject to congressional approval,” said Lockheed spokesman Jeffery Adams.
“The U.S. policy on foreign military sales for the F-22 weapons program remains restricted,” a U.S. Air Force spokeswoman said. “The F-22 is a cutting-edge, fifth-generation fighter that offers unparalleled capability. It is for this reason that F-22 will not be available for foreign sales.”
As of Oct. 1, the Air Force had 147 of the 187 planes it will receive.
The Defense Authorization Act language is no guarantee of foreign sales — not by a long shot, Pike said. Whether that language represents something “that might have legs or whether this is something everybody knows is a non-starter” is still an open question, he said.
Thompson dismissed the notion that an exportable version will be produced.
“There will not be a production line from which to sell F-22s overseas by the time an export version could be created,” he said. “Most of the skill in any major weapons system resides in the workers, and they will drift away” as production for the Air Force concludes.