The Pentagon’s expensive, useless F-22 fighter has finally won the dogfight

When it officially entered military service in 2005, the US Air Force praised the F-22 Raptor as an “exponential leap in combat capability.”

American taxpayers ultimately paid $67 billion to purchase the 187 aircraft, which had been in development since 1986 “to project air dominance, fast and long-range” with technical capabilities “unmatched by any known or designed fighter plane”.

On Saturday. The F-22 scored its first victory against an airborne opponent when it shot down… a balloon.

There is perhaps no better metaphor for the expensive grandiosity of the US military than the use of a multi-million dollar fighter jet to dispatch an unarmed, unmanageable adversary. But the fact that the F-22 had never won a dogfight before its decisive victory over what may or may not have been a Chinese spy balloon is a nice illustration of why the United States has the most expensive military in the world by a wide margin.

In short, it’s because the Pentagon buys a lot of expensive toys that have no use.

The F-22 never had a clear purpose. When some Republicans in Congress tried to cut funding for the new fighter jet in 1999 (when Republicans sometimes did such things), a Brookings Institution report noted that America’s air superiority was already secured. Older fighters dominated the skies during Desert Storm and the Kosovo conflict, and no other country came close to closing the gap.

“The Air Force’s intention to replace almost its entire inventory of existing fighters with next-generation jets that cost more than twice as much reflects Cold War habits,” Michael E. O’Hanlon wrote in a Brookings report. “Given the low likelihood that other nations will acquire such advanced aircraft and the fact that major advances in capability can be achieved by improving the munitions and sensors on existing US fighters, these aircraft are unnecessary in the numbers now proposed.”

The next few decades confirmed the logic behind that warning. The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq did not require air-to-air combat against advanced opponents. By 2004, a year before the F-22 officially entered combat service, the Pentagon scaled back its plans to buy over 300 of them. Two years after that, the Government Accountability Office reported that the Air Force had not demonstrated the “need or value” of buying additional F-22s. The same report somewhat hilariously notes that the fighter was designed “to combat threats from the Soviet Union,” which, of course, disappeared for a decade and a half.

In 2008, then-Secretary of Defense Robert Gates openly stated that the F-22 had no place in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

“The purpose of the F-22 was to ensure that the Joint Force could reasonably secure air superiority in these wars. Trying to make a connection between this and a terrorist planning an attack from a remote cave in Afghanistan is irresponsible at best,” wrote Maj.. Mike Benetez, Air Force fighter pilot, in place for 2016 War on the rocks. He summarized that the F-22 “is based on 1980s requirements, built with 1990s technology and designed to counter outdated threats with outdated techniques.”

The Pentagon is always fighting the last war and the American taxpayer has been kept on the hook for the F-22 far longer than they should have. Now we’re paying for its replacement—the much-maligned F-35 fighter—despite major advances in drone technology that will likely make fighter jets even more obsolete in the coming decades than they have been in the last two.

But hey, maybe one day the F-35 will be called upon to protect the country from a serious threat. Like a kite or hang glider.

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