This Nation Wants America's Most Lethal Stealth Warplane Ever

This Nation Wants America's Most Lethal Stealth Warplane Ever

It’s a problematic suggestion.

Retired Royal Australian Air Force wing commander Chris Mills doesn’t like the new F-35 Joint Strike Fighter that Canberra is buying from the United States. Noting the new plane’s sluggishness and poor results in simulated air combat against the latest Russian fighters, Mills has called for Australia to lobby the United States for F-22 Raptors.

It’s a problematic suggestion. The U.S. Congress banned export of the Raptor and would have to reverse its legislation in order to sell the plane abroad. Lockheed Martin shuttered the F-22 assembly line in Georgia in 2012, although the company did preserve the tooling. As recently as mid-January, U.S. Air Force secretary Deborah Lee James called another round of Raptor production “pretty much a non-starter” owing to the high cost—as much as $17 billion for seventy-five fresh aircraft.

Mills is undeterred. “Air combat is the most important single capability for the defense of Australia, because control of the air over our territory and maritime approaches is critical to all other types of operation in the defense of Australia,” Mills wrote in testimony he recently submitted to the Australian parliament.

The one hundred F-35s Australia plans on buying will be “irrelevant” in air combat, Mills claimed.

Australia has lost regional air superiority in the past, Mills explained—and it can lose it again as China and other Southeast Asia countries acquire new jets. Mills wrote that his own experiences as a fighter pilot in the 1975 underscore his concern.

“I was flying an air combat mission in a Mirage near Butterworth, Malaya at the moment this happened,” Mills recalled. “The RMAF had re-equipped 12 Squadron with the F-5E Tiger, and invited RAAF’s 3 Squadron to a four versus four (mock) air combat engagement. Our lead was the squadron’s operations officer and I was his wingman. As we merged, it quickly became apparent that we were inferior: the F-5E [pilots] could out-turn and the Mirage [and] they had much more modern air-to-air missiles and a better gunsight. We could out-climb and out-run them, advantages useful for escaping, but not for killing the enemy. The F-5E had a very small cross-section, and was difficult to spot on radar or visually.”

Likewise, the Su-30s, Su-35s and other fighters that China, Malaysia, Indonesia and other regional countries are buying can fly farther and faster and haul more weapons than can Australia’s current F/A-18s and its future F-35s. A new “F-22C”—in essence a refreshed version of the current F-22—is the only feasible counter, Mills asserted. Mills advised the United States, Australia and their allies together to acquire 420 F-22Cs then quickly develop a two-seat F-22E.

“At a production rate of 100 per year, building this world-dominance fleet would require 4.2 years for the F-22[C] and a further six years for the F-22E.”

David Axe is a contributor to War is Boring, in which this article first appeared.

Image: Wikimedia Commons/ U.S. Air National Guard/Senior Airman Justin Hodge.