Ever since the end of World War-II, America has stood squarely on the shoulders of its air superiority, vastly outclassing any opponents in both fixed wing and (after Vietnam) rotor aircraft. So much so, that during the cold war, the Soviet doctrine was so heavily slanted against the US air domination that its entire doctrine was centred around aerial denial and relatively less focused on countering airpower with airpower. It is this legacy that we continue to see to this day. Russia fields a multitude of surface to air missiles as a legacy of this doctrine shift from the Soviet era and to this day fields the most fearsome anti-access, area denial weapons (A2-AD), such as the S-400M weapons system. In light of the fielding of such formidable weapons in the 21st century battlefield, it would be reasonable to assume the United States would stay ahead of the competition and maintain its strategic, technological edge. This assumption could have proven incorrect in 2012 when the Secretary of Defence, Robert Gates, voted to halt production of the aircraft in favour of other projects in the pipeline. Robert Gates rationale in this decision was twofold. The first, that the US did not need air superiority in either of the two theatres of war the US was embroiled in; those theatres being Afghanistan and Iraq (at the time of the cancellation, the US was still active in Iraq and therefore Iraq factored into the considerations). The US had air superiority in those skies and they did not need the F-22 to maintain that status quo. Furthermore, Robert Gates cited the per year cost of reportedly $3.5Billion as causus belli to cancel the project. In December 2004, the Department of Defence concluded that 183 F-22’s were sufficient enough to meet its requirements. This is in stark contrast to what the US Air Force originally demanded which was 442 aircrafts, then 381, then 243, and then 183, before bringing that number back up to 187. Strategically, this number is not high enough to counter the threat posed by Russia and China. The F35 Joint Strike fighter II also made by Lockheed Martin, simply does not have the F-22 raptors air to air capabilities and therefore cannot fulfil the same role. Furthermore, some Australian politicians and commentators proposed Australia should attempt to purchase the F-22 instead of the F35 due to the fact that the F-22 had known capabilities and the F35 at that point in time had multiple delays and developmental uncertainties. In the end, the Royal Australian Air Force determined the F-22 was unable to perform the F35’s strike and close air support soles and scrapped the proposal. Robert Gates made the decision at the time to cancel the project because in his eyes the platform was ‘only’ to be used as an air to air, deep strike and destruction of enemy air defence platform. Aside from that, he speculated that any adversary to the US would only be able to develop the know-how maximum by 2020, which ultimately proved to be incorrect. Gates push seemed even more paradoxical as the cost of the jets was rapidly dropping due to economies of scale. As an illustration, the last batch of 60 jets were slated to be priced at a staggering $137 million dollars per unit, that being 27 million dollars more expensive than the per unit price of the F35 Joint strike fighter (itself a white elephant) built to be a ‘low cost’ solution. It should be noted that the figures above for the F-22, although astronomical, were a pittance compared to how much the F-22 cost when it first rolled out of its Marietta factory — just short of $377million dollars per unit. Given the fact that the cost to revive the F-22 is much higher now that the project has been cancelled, America has put its air superiority in a marginally less expensive but unproven basket: the F35 This figure includes developmental and production spending divided by the number of jets built. After assessing this monumental drop in price per unit, the Senate still voted to axe the programme in favour of the untested F35 Joint Strike Fighter. The former being an untested and unproven system with its own legacy of flaws and failed tests. The Department of Defence eventually settled for a mere 187 F-22’s, as the Obama administration contested the addition of several more F-22’s to the total number of jets which saved the American taxpayer $1.75 billion. Obama opposed the addition of those planes so strongly that he vowed to veto the entire $679.8 billion defence bill if the Senate didn’t remove the additional request. Around the time the F-22 was being cancelled, Robert Gates cited “the lack of contemporary fighters fielded by developed nations until 2020.” This claim proved to be extremely short-sighted as the only two nations capable of fielding fifth-generation fighters that would oppose US interests were Russia and China. As of today, China has not one but two fifth-generation fighters. The first being the J20, which conducted airborne trials before the last F-22 left the production line. As a further snub, the Chinese timed the event while Robert Gates was in China to conduct high-level meetings. The second such fighter that China is fielding is called the J31. Both represent a quantum leap in China’s technical expertise and showed that the earlier assessment by Robert Gates was too complacent. On the Russian side, they too fielded an advanced fifth-generation fighter known as the SU-57 which first took flight in 2010 while first production deliveries of the aircraft are to begin as soon as 2019. In 2010, due to the arrival of other fifth-generation fighters on the world stage, the USAF initiated a study to determine the costs of retaining the F-22 tooling for a future Service Life Extension Program (SLEP). A RAND corporation paper from this study estimated that simply restarting the production and building an additional 75 F-22s would cost $17billion, resulting in $227 million per aircraft cost, $54million higher than if the aircraft had never been cancelled. Lockheed Martin stated that restarting the production line itself would cost roughly $200million. Production tooling will be documented in electronic manuals at the Sierra Army Depot. Later attempts to retrieve this tooling found that the containers housing the tooling were empty. The decision to cancel the F-22 in view of favouring funding towards unconventional warfare was exceptionally nearsighted. Granted, at the time America was facing an exceptional financial crisis and the route it opted to go down granted its adversaries time to catch up. Even by conventional estimates, the rest of the world has caught up far quicker than America was ready to anticipate. Given the fact that the cost to revive the F-22 is now much higher than had they not cancelled the project, America has put its air superiority in a marginally less expensive and unproven basket: the F35. Only time will tell if this was a colossal mistake or not. America better hopes successive governments decisions on the F-22 budget does not come at the detriment to its people. The writer has a bachelor degree in psychology and takes an interest in military strategy and technology Published in Daily Times, May 7th 2018.