The Buzz

Why Did America Stop Building the Best Fighter Jet Ever?

On the other hand the world has changed once again in the intervening years, and the Chinese and Russian Air Forces are in both in the midst of their own extensive modernization efforts, just as both countries grow more aggressive on the world stage. There are now three fifth-generation aircraft—the Chinese J-20 and FC-31, and the Russian/Indian T-50—in development set to challenge U.S. air power. None of these aircraft existed in 2009, when Secretary Gates cancelled the F-22. Critics of termination charge that the Department of Defense made a tactical choice at the expense of a weapon that could deter adversaries from starting big-power wars, making much more devastating wars more likely.

The F-22 Raptor was done in by a number of factors, but perhaps the underlying reason was the program dragged on for so long it was exposed to greater risk of being undercut by current events. The Littoral Combat Ship—which ten years after development began is still equipped with just one fifty-seven-millimeter cannon—is headed in the same direction. The F-22 wasn’t the first wonder weapon to face an early end, and it won’t be the last.

Kyle Mizokami is a defense and national-security writer based in San Francisco who has appeared in the Diplomat, Foreign Policy, War is Boring and the Daily Beast. In 2009 he cofounded the defense and security blog Japan Security Watch. You can follow him on Twitter: @KyleMizokami.

Image: F-22 landing at Nellis Air Force Base. Flickr/Creative Commons/@BriYYZ