Would shutting down the Raptor really put 95000 people out of work? No. David Axe has the data:
Problem is, that 95,000 number counts indirect employment at firms for whom the F-22 program is just one of many clients. And it also counts Lockheed assembly workers who are in high demand for other aviation projects. In fact, ending Raptor production today might not result in a single unemployed aerospace worker.
Not to belabor the point, but this is one of the things that Mark Bowden might have bothered to research when writing his Atlantic article about the F-22. Unfortunately, he did not; rather, he uncritically repeated claims made by pilots and manufacturers (neither groups are noted for supplying informed, unbiased economic data) as to the aircraft’s merits and economic impact. I would say that Bowden’s article is singularly terrible (see James Fallows on this point), but for the fact that the article is a near repeat of Robert Kaplan’s…. affectionate take on the B-2.
In any case, the F-22 topic of the day is that the Air Force has requested another 60 Raptors, which is a substantial reduction from what the Air Force wanted (380 fighters), but a substantial increase over what some defense analysts are willing to give. It’s fair to say that my own thinking on this issue has evolved. While the United States is unlikely to face a crisis of air superiority in the short or medium term, it’s true enough that foreign designs have become competitive with the best US air superiority aircraft, short of the F-22. Better training still gives the US a substantial edge, but it is nice to have the best aircraft available. I have also become steadily more disillusioned with the progress of the F-35 Lightning II; it’s becoming apparent that the capabilities gap between the F-22 and the F-35 will be huge, but the price tag gap won’t be very large at all.
Thus, while the entire F-22 project may have been a serious misallocation of resources, I don’t think it naturally follows that buying an additional sixty aircraft, at this point, is a terrible idea. From an initial position it probably would have made more sense to continue production of advanced F-15s and F-16s. From where we are now, though, there seems to be little point in taking a step back. I doubt very much that there will ever be a manned air superiority aircraft better than the F-22; it will probably be the last of its kind.
Cross-posted to TAPPED.