Well, I'm all for a strong defense, so hearing that McCain is a Raptor foe gave me pause. Here's what I found:
The Pentagon (news - web sites) may have to scrap its premier fighter jet program to help pay for the war in Iraq (news - web sites), Sen. John McCain, an influential member of the Armed Services Committee, said on Sunday.
"It's obvious that we're paying a heavy price, I think, for not having had enough troops there from the beginning," the Arizona Republican said on NBC's "Meet the Press."
McCain said both the U.S. Army and the Marine Corps must be expanded overall, a position at odds with President Bush (news - web sites)'s administration. The United States has about 135,000 troops in Iraq, a number that McCain, an influential member of the Armed Services Committee, said must rise.
As part of a broad overhaul of U.S. priorities, he said, the Pentagon may have to scrap the $71 billion Air Force program to buy F/A-22 air-to-air fighters built by Lockheed Martin Corp. .
"We may have to cancel this airplane that's going to cost between $250 million and $300 million a copy," said McCain, floating what could become a major new legislative hurdle to a top Air Force priority.
McCain led a drive that stalled what has become a $23.5 billion plan to lease up to 20 and buy up to 80 modified Boeing Co. 767s as mid-air refueling tankers. The plan is on hold pending reviews due next month at the Pentagon.
"We've got to change the way we do business and put the priority where it belongs," McCain said. "And that is making sure that we succeed in Iraq."
In an April 11 appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” McCain shook up USAF leaders with what sounded like the opening shot in a crusade against the F/A-22. McCain said the US will have to expand the size of the Army and Marine Corps if it wants to achieve its objectives in Iraq. To pay for it, he said, “we may have to make some tough choices.”
He went on to say, “We may have to cancel this airplane that’s going to cost between $250 million and $300 million a copy.” The Senator did not identify the aircraft, but a McCain spokesperson confirmed he was referring to the F/A-22.
The figure quoted by McCain includes money spent on research, development, and tooling—basically, the sunk cost. The Air Force says the per copy flyaway cost of each new aircraft, if the service buys 200 or more, is about $120 million. The price will be lower still if the service succeeds in obtaining further cost efficiencies in production.
According to a Senate staff member, McCain was not necessarily trying to target the F/A-22 for cancellation. He was simply trying to highlight the fact that Iraq operations take precedence. The staffer said that, if the funds needed to achieve success in Iraq are competing with “programs that are struggling,” then “the immediate military requirement wins, hands down. ”
The staff member signaled that McCain might seek a reduction in the number of F/A-22s in the Fiscal 2005 budget. One reason, he said, was that Lockheed Martin is behind on deliveries of the Raptor. Reducing next year’s buy might “give them time to catch up,” said McCain ’s staffer.
The Air Force declined to comment officially on McCain’s remarks, but service officials privately expressed dismay that the Senator seemed to indicate a lack of support for the Raptor.
“He is a tough critic, as the whole tanker issue has shown, and we hoped he would be with us on the F/A-22,” a senior USAF official said.
McCain’s voting record has been generally supportive of the F/A-22 over the last 15 years. He even defended the program during his bid for the 2000 Republican Presidential nomination. However, at that time he also suggested that he might only support a smaller fleet than that proposed by the Pentagon.
In response to a question put by The Concord (N.H.) Monitor prior to the 2000 New Hampshire primaries, McCain said USAF’s new air superiority fighter is “needed to ensure that the United States will maintain the ability to dominate the skies over a battlefield well into the 21st century. The F-15 has been and remains a fine aircraft, but its edge over foreign aircraft already in production is declining and a new airframe is needed for the initial phase of conflict.”
Then McCain said that the F-22 becomes less important once enemy air defenses are defeated. “Thus, as with all other military systems, I would support procurement of only those assets necessary to ensure successful missions,” he said.
The Air Force also recognized that it would require the new fighter to go beyond its primary air superiority role. In 2002, it redesignated the F-22, the F/A-22, giving it more of an attack role.
From these articles, it sounds to me that McCain is arguing that, with soaring deficits, we simply can't afford them at a time when we need to devote resources to the Iraq War. Unfortunately, he's probably right. At some point, we may be faced with the unpleasant reality that we may need a war tax if this war continues and the deficits grow. Otherwise, we're going to begin to see a signficant weakening of our defense.