—Michael C. Sirak
July 31, 2008—It’s no secret that former Air Force Secretary Michael Wynne’s views on the F-22 and F-35 stood in stark contrast to those of the Office of the Secretary of Defense leadership. Now, to resolve the disagreement once and for all, Wynne is calling for them to duke it out. Not the men. The machines.
In an interview on July 28, Wynne said he supports keeping the F-22 production line going until at least 2014 and then conducting a fly-off of the two fifth-generation stealth fighters at that time to decide unequivocally whether the F-35’s performance equals that of the F-22 as Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England, and Pentagon acquisition czar John Young contend. Doing so, said Wynne, will allow for “a bona-fide, fact-based judgment” as to whether the nation should keep buying F-22s or allow its production to cease and procure only F-35s from that point on.
“I think they are overestimating the capability of the F-35 relative to the F-22,” Wynne said of OSD’s leadership. In fact, he continued, “We give up too much strategic margin settling on the F-35,” at least at this point with only 183 F-22s on order.
However, with the results of a fly-off in hand, the Air Force and OSD would know if “Secretary England was right that there is not a dime’s worth of difference” between the two aircraft or the Air Force’s view prevails that the F-22 and F-35 are complementary, but definitely not interchangeable platforms.
“The nation can afford [these additional] F-22s,” Wynne said. “I don’t think America would be penniless as a result of hedging that bet.”
Wynne said he targeted 2014 for the fly-off since it is a projected “inflection point” for the F-35 program at which the aircraft should achieve a solid level of maturity and its production has ramped up to a high rate. Keeping F-22 production going until that time at annual build rates of about 24 aircraft would bring the total Raptor buy up to the high 200s, a number that Wynne said is supported by an OSD-commissioned study on tactical air requirements carried out by consulting firm Whitney, Bradley, & Brown, Inc.
“It turns out that the quantity that they came to was about 271,” he said.
A new Rand study estimates that buying 75 more F-22s beyond 183 would cost between $13.7 billion and $19 billion, depending on the rate of production and whether there is a break in manufacture.
When asked how he would cover the cost of buying a lot of new F-22s in Fiscal 2010, Wynne said he would apply a good chunk of the $5 billion in extra procurement funds that the Air Force is expected to receive in that fiscal year over its Fiscal 2009 topline request. This tranche would be Lot 10.
Conversely, halting F-22 production right now at 183, as OSD has favored, is “risky” for two principal reasons, Wynne said. The first reason is the maturity of the F-35; the second goes back to performance.
The F-35 today is about at the point in its development that the F-22 was in 1995, Wynne said. Back then, a full 10 years before the F-22 was declared ready for operations, the aircraft still had design and performance issues to overcome, taking good chunks of time and money.
“I am very worried that the F-35 will fail a test,” said Wynne, although he acknowledged the F-35 program leadership exudes high confidence in the progress of that project. He continued: “To say now that we want to devolve to a single [production] line of fifth-generation fighters, I just think introduces the nation to risk that is unnecessary.”
As for capability, even when the F-35 is performing as designed, it still will not be an F-22, Wynne said. He wasn’t trashing the F-35. Indeed, he said it will be “a remarkable competitor” on the world stage. But it is not, nor has it ever been conceived to be a stand-in for the F-22.
“These are clearly different airplanes,” Wynne said. The F-22 was successfully designed as “the finest air dominance fighter ever,” he said. Conversely, the F-35 is a “compromise design” aimed at “maximizing commonality” among the services and “maximizing the amount of international partnership,” he said.
Lockheed Martin is the prime contractor for both.
While the F-35 will be sold abroad, Wynne said he does not favor placing the F-22 on the international market.
“People tell me that I am weird and strange and anti-the [F-22] program, but I feel like the Air Force made almost a blood commitment to the American people that the F-22 would be the best air dominance fighter in the world and it would stay that way,” he explained.
Wynne stepped down as USAF’s top civilian official on June 20 after serving in that role since November 2005. He said he views his disagreement with OSD’s leadership on the F-22 as a contributing factor in his departure.
“In December of last year , I sent the secretary a note and told him I could not support the F-22 decision,” Wynne said. OSD’s “decision” was to omit funding in its Fiscal 2009 budget request for advance procurement of components for the Lot 10 F-22s that would be assembled starting in Fiscal 2010.
“I was clear about it,” Wynne continued. “I’d probably be working to put money back in.”
OSD programmed no money in the budget proposal outright to pay for shuttering the F-22 production line—an overtly good sign—saying it was preserving the option for the next Presidential Administration to decide whether to buy more F-22s.
“The mechanics of it are clear,” Wynne said of OSD’s decision, noting that without the advance procurement funding in the Fiscal 2009 budget, “you’re actually atrophying” the supplier base of fourth-tier and third-tier vendors “starting in October.” In effect, the line starts to close.
While OSD said it would allow the Air Force to seek four additional F-22s in a Fiscal 2009 supplemental war spending request as a means of keeping the production line active to bridge the transition of Administration, Air Force and Lockheed Martin officials have said these four airframes only keep the line going a few months. It would not be long enough to allow for uninterrupted flow of the line into early 2009 when the new Administration will be in a position to decide. Any perturbation in the continuity of the production flow adds costs.
So far, Congress has sided with Wynne and the Air Force on keeping the line going. Just yesterday, the House Appropriations defense subcommittee announced that it is adding $523 million to the Pentagon’s Fiscal 2009 spending request to fund the advance procurement of the Lot 10 parts.
This action follows earlier moves by House and Senate authorizers in May to support advance procurement. The House version of the authorization bill, passed on May 22, contains provision for $523 million, while the Senate Armed Services Committee added $497 million, but with the caveat that it is up to the next President to decide whether to use this add-on for the advance procurement or for shuttering the F-22 production line.
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