Could deepening the US budget crisis lead to the sale of F-22s

In the aftermath of the storm that the defense budget crisis created, the United States finds itself grappling with a particularly challenging predicament. The ongoing budget crisis has necessitated a slash in the budget allocated to new fighter jets. 

South Korean F-35A
Photo credit: USAF

Originally, the U.S. had plans to purchase several new aircraft, including the highly-touted F-35 and F-15EX. However, the severe budget crisis has forced the cancellation of these intended acquisitions in a bid to help sustain the economy. The defense budget set aside by the U.S. Government for the fiscal year 2024 stands at US$886 billion. 

This substantial budget was designed to facilitate the acquisition of 107 new fighter jets by 2025. Circumstances, however, dictated a cutback in the number of new aircraft purchases, affecting the F-35 and F-15EX in particular. Despite this setback, it’s important to note that these two models remain highly coveted by both the U.S. Air Force [USAF] and the U.S. Navy.

F-15EX 'missile truck' can shoot down 6 fighters in one flight
Photo credit: USAF

Retirement or sale of F-22?

Due to financial constraints, the procurement of T-7A training aircraft has suffered reductions. The Pentagon is receiving urgent requests to hasten the modernization programs of both the US Air Force and Navy. 

One proposal under consideration is to retire or even offload the F-22 Raptor to nations that need it. However, as reported by BulgarianMilitary.com, the matter isn’t as straightforward as flipping a switch. The US Congress has repeatedly expressed its vehement opposition to the idea of decommissioning the F-22 Raptor anytime soon. 

Selling F-22s in the Mideast? It's still illegal and expensive
Photo credit: AlphaCoders.com

Congress argues adamantly that fifth-generation aircraft are essential in addressing existing threats, particularly those emanating from China. The congressional members even advocate for further enhancements to the F-22 Raptor, despite escalating costs. Clearly, the members of Congress believe that relying solely on replacements by the F-35 or F-15EX is not a comprehensive solution. 

On the other hand, the government views the proposal to enhance the F-22 Raptor as an extra financial burden amid an ongoing budget crisis. According to USAF data, the upkeep of an F-22 Raptor could carry a steep price, costing up to US$15 million per unit.

Selling is almost impossible

Due to its cutting-edge technology and superior features, the export of the F-22 Raptor has been limited by the United States. Ranked among the most innovative fighter jets in the world, the F-22 boasts stealth technology, high-end avionics, and the ability to maintain supersonic speed without afterburners. 

There is apprehension within the U.S. government that this state-of-the-art technology might be misused or reverse-engineered by enemies. In addition to this, there are legal and political obstacles including the International Traffic in Arms Regulations [ITAR] and constraints set by the U.S. Congress. 

The F-35, another top-tier aircraft, has been approved for export to friends and allies under specific agreements and terms. Its export forms a critical component of broader defense and security cooperation initiatives with partner nations. Despite the various strengths and capabilities of both the F-35 and F-22, the decision to limit the export of the F-22 is primarily based on concerns regarding safety and strategy.

Military doesn't want the F-22, the politicians want the F-22
Photo credit: Pixabay

Trump case

In a 2020 article published by the esteemed Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper, anonymous sources indicated that the US President at the time, Donald Trump, had authorized the sale of the globally recognized advanced stealth fighter, the F-22 Raptors, to Israel. This initiative followed Israel’s somewhat hesitant approval of the US sale of F-35 jets to the UAE, and this move was perceived as a potential threat to Israel’s military superiority in the region. 

The article highlighted Israel’s pursuit of the F-22 to maintain its “qualitative military edge” [QME]—a mandate the United States is required to uphold according to its legal framework. Despite the presence of a 2010 defense authorization bill directive that encouraged a study into the possibility of exporting a version of the F-22, the US Congress has yet to revoke the export prohibition. 

F-22 remains the US top pick against China despite upgrade costs
YouTube screenshot

Nevertheless, Israeli defense representatives later denied the reports about their interest in the F-22, clarifying that it is “not a current point of discussion.” However, the fascination with the F-22 stems from its smaller radar cross-section and superior speed and agility, attributes provided by its dual thrust-vectoring F119 turbofan engines.

Japan also wanted the F-22

The F-22 boasts superior flight capabilities, which allow it to maneuver excellently and cruise at supersonic speeds without the assistance of afterburners. Unlike the F-35, which is a practical warplane thanks to its versatility and economic value, the F-22 emerges as a stalwart contender primarily in air-to-air confrontations. 

No amount of F-22s can help America deal with Russia in Syria
Photo credit: Pixabay

In 2018, Japan took the F-22 into consideration, contemplating a theoretical production run that would integrate advancements from the F-35. This proposed F-22/F-35 hybrid was viewed as a response to escalating incursions into Japan’s airspace by China, thus underlining the need for a dedicated air superiority fighter. 

However, when confronted with the hefty costs associated with the proposal – Lockheed estimated unit costs at US$215 million per plane, a steep increase from the pre-shutdown average of US$150 million – Tokyo decided to forgo the idea.

Upgrading is expensive

An estimated sum of US$50 million per unit is required for the transition from Block 20 to Block 35. Due to these requirements, the Pentagon, on behalf of the USAF, has advocated for a complete budget allocation toward the development of NGAD. Notably, NGAD, a sixth-generation combat aircraft, represents the prospective future of the United States Navy. 

Despite attempts by the USAF to expedite the NGAD development process, General David Alvin, the Chief of Staff of the Air Force, has emphasized that not all F-22 Raptors will be phased out. According to Alvin, several aircraft units will be preserved, provided they are capable of handling medium to long-term operations. 

Alvin stated, “Our objective is to ensure these units remain in optimal working condition, and continue their active duty while directing substantial resources towards units that have critical maintenance requirements.”

F-22 remains the US top pick against China despite upgrade costs
YouTube screenshot

Moore doesn’t want the F-22

Lt. Gen. Richard Moore, who serves as the Air Force Vice Chief of Staff and Planner, holds a contrasting viewpoint. Moore presents a string of compelling arguments challenging Congress. He indicates that the communication components of the F-22 Raptor are a central issue. Although this fighter jet offers superior speed compared to the F-35, Moore suggests it falls short in terms of weapons support and electronic warfare capabilities. 

According to Moore, “The Raptors will never achieve full combat power. They lack advanced communication systems, they’re not equipped with the most high-tech weapons, and their electronic warfare capabilities aren’t up-to-date,” he stated.

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