WASHINGTON - A top Air Force general, crossing swords with Pentagon leadership, says a proposed cap on the number of F-22 stealth fighters puts America at "high risk" of compromising military strategy.
In a June 9 letter to a senator, Gen. John Corley, commander of the Air Force's Air Combat Command, wrote: "In my opinion, a fleet of 187 F-22s puts execution of our current national military strategy at high risk in the near to mid term." General Corley's letter, obtained by the Monitor Thursday, came in response to a query from Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R) of Georgia, where parts of the F-22 Raptor are built.
The 187 cap is the symbolic centerpiece of Defense Secretary Robert Gates's budget request, which aims to rein in defense procurement costs. He has said it is time to wrap up the program to buy the $140 million-a-copy plane.
The Air Force had long disagreed, calling for as many as 381 planes as recently as last year, in apparent defiance of Mr. Gates. The Defense Secretary fired the Air Force's two top leaders last year, largely over the issue.
The new Air Force chief of staff, Gen. Norton "Norty" Schwartz, is on board with Gates's position, publicly stating his support for ending the program in a newspaper oped in April. "The time has come to move on," General Schwartz and Air Force Secretary Michael Donley wrote.
But General Corley, in his letter, wrote that "there are no studies" yet to justify the figure of 187. Even 250 F-22s would put the nation at "moderate risk," Corley wrote, citing analysis by his command.
Of course, Genearl Corley also fails to mention that there are no studies justifying the 381 number, either. Nor does the Air Force the F-22 was expected to counter actually still exist.
But look for another 20 F-22s to be added back into the defense budget through various Congressional maneuvers, bringing our total defense spending up to at least a 6-8% increase over last year.