Friday, February 20, 2009

The Last Ace
Mark Bowden's Ad for the F-22


We've discussed the F-22 question before here in our non-expert way. This article reads like an ad for the plane.

Non-expert that I am, I dunno. One wonders, though: if India can slap a gray-market electronics pod on a $100,000 MIG-21 and make it effective against F-15s, why we can't at least get by on JSF/F-35s.

Nobody denies that the F-22 is awesome. But at a unit flyaway cost of $178 million per (and a program acquisition unit cost of $350 million per), it is simply not obvious that it's worth it. You can improve primary or secondary education a good bit with, say, $700 million. And the consequences of that--even just for national defense narrowly construed--could be great.

It's good to have an airforce no one will even consider fighting. In fact, that's a most excellent thing. And our airforce does, indeed, rock the house. (One astonishing fact in the Bowden piece: U.S. air dominance has been so complete that "[t]he last American soldier killed on the ground by an enemy air attack died in Korea, on April 15, 1953.") But the Bowden piece, like so many such discussions, pays no attention to opportunity costs--there are a lot of other important things we could be doing with the (gigantic chunks of) money in question. Without a careful examination of those opportunity costs, no discussion of the F-22 program can be even vaguely complete.


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