Friday, July 10, 2009

F-22 Follies

I recommend this piece on the F-22 in the Washington Post.

No time now, but something on it later.


Blogger The Mystic said...

You sure do hate the F-22. I have one thing to say, and then I'll be done.

I think it's a mistake to read articles written by journalists on topics as complex as determining the suitability of the F-22 for today's military. They are not only unqualified to write such articles, but the topic seems to me to demand more attention than could be given in a mere newspaper article anyway.

The F-22 has problems. That much is obvious. The F-22 is also increasingly getting a bad rap. That much is obvious. What isn't obvious is whether or not this matters. As an analogy for our current predicament with the F-22, I offer up the example of Windows Vista, since I work in IT and I think there's reason to believe that we could be falling into the same sort of trap with the F-22 that many fell into with Windows Vista. Bad reports about its problems quickly accumulated to a point where Microsoft is scrambling to get Windows 7 out there so they can reestablish a good image they lost for no good reason to begin with.

Windows Vista is a complete redesign of an operating system whose security has literally stopped the spread of 99% of all malware issues in my workplace. Before Vista, almost every XP computer in my workplace was infected with at least some form of malware at one time or another, be it a simple unwanted and annoying browser toolbar, or true malware droppers, greatly degrading computer performance with a deluge of adware programs being installed on the machine. With Vista, however, I have so far seen only one machine suffering from malware in nearly a year of over a hundred people in the building using Vista.

However, did the average reporter or person ever hear or talk about this? No. Not, at least, in any way more than an off-hand comment about it between negative claims about Vista's performance and incompatibility issues.

I fear the same thing may be happening with the F-22. It's clear that there are performance and maintenance issues which are indeed costly (as there were with Vista), but it's not clear that these issues outweigh the fact that newbie pilots in F-22s absolutely obliterated ace veterans in all forms of last-generation aircraft during Red Flag. Neither is it clear that the F-22's extremely positive impact on its allies on the battlefield, resulting in dramatically increased lethality from said allies, fails to make the F-22 worthwhile despite its shortcomings.

I bring up the Vista comparison because I think that the problem encountered with Vista's reputation is the fact that people who do not sufficiently understand the issues do not understand the impact of the benefits as thoroughly as they understand the impact of the drawbacks. Drawbacks are typically easier to understand. No one wants to have to purchase new hardware because of compatibility issues. No one wants to have to purchase upgraded software. Everyone has a good grasp on the value of money, and looking at drawbacks in terms of monetary value makes it easy to point and say "That's bad".

Benefits, however, are harder to understand. How can a journalist or average person be expected to translate the power and advantages of the F-22 in combat into a monetary value, so that the benefits might be adequately compared to the drawbacks? How is it that the average employee at my office is expected to understand the cost and manhours saved in terms of malware protection when they never do the maintenance on their computers themselves?

The program is obviously expensive, but given its performance tests, I have to say that I'm nowhere near convinced that it's not worth it. Like Windows Vista, the F-22 has sacrificed maintenance and performance costs to accrue some very impressive benefits. Unless the entire package is really analyzed and understood, the benefits and costs adequately compared, I fear that we're going to fall into the Vista trap again.

11:24 AM  
Blogger Joshua said...

It's a very pretty plane.

11:31 AM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

Not at all. I love the F-22. I think it's super cool. It is, in a certain obvious sense, the greatest fighter plane ever built. I love to read about it; I love to watch videos of it.

But that doesn't mean that it's the best way to spend our $$, even our military $$.

Actually, I'm well aware of the virtues of the F-22. The main question in this area has always been: should we pay mind-boggling amounts of money for an almost incredibly advance air-superiority fighter?

The WaPo article seems to tell us that the costs of the F-22 are far higher than we were led to believe, and that Lockheed has structured the program in a way which guarantees that it won't be scaled back even if it ought to be, in fact sacrificing quality to do so.

We have to make a cost-benefit analysis when evaluating the F-22, as we do with any other weapon system. If the Post is right, then the costs are higher than we thought. That's relevant to the calculation.

When I say "you ought to read the article," that's all I mean. "Read the article" doesn't mean "screw the F-22!"

12:17 PM  
Blogger Joshua said...

As awesome as it is, we're basically facing a situation where we're going from being able to annihilate any two opposing air forces simultaneously to being able to annihilate any four air forces simultaneously. Which is, you know, impressive, but do we need that? Probably not.

12:30 PM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

But didn't you see how those alien flying saucers ate up F-18s in Independence Day???

12:32 PM  

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