A Fighter Essential to Air Superiority
Washington Post, Letter to the Editor
George C. Wilson attacked the Lockheed-Martin F/A-22 Raptor jet fighter, but the plane could be crucial to us in Asia.
In about three years China will have enough forces in place to consider a surprise strike on Taiwan. It has purchased 300 to 400 Russian Sukhoi Su-27 fighters and Su-30 fighter-bombers, plus Russian A-50 AWACS and anti-air and ground attack missiles. These will be coordinated with a force of about 50 attack submarines. These, plus about 1,000 ballistic and cruise missiles, could be the openers for either a blockade of Taiwan or an attack on Taipei.
Today the U.S. "front line" is two squadrons (about 48 planes) of Boeing F-15C fighters on Okinawa. The head of U.S. air forces in the Pacific recently complained about the difficulty of simply maintaining these 30-year-old fighters. Since friendly air exercises with Russia in 1992, the Pentagon has known that the Su-27 can outmaneuver the F-15C. In terms of radar, electronics and even weapons, China's Sukhois are increasingly able to match the F-15C.
The Sukhois also have the Russian R-73 air-to-air missile that can almost guarantee victory in a dogfight. The self-guided Russian R-77 medium-range air-to-air missile is almost as good as the U.S. AIM-120 AMRAAM. Upgrades may allow all of China's Sukhois to fire Russian Kh-31 supersonic anti-ship missiles.
The F/A-22 is the only fighter available to the United States that can truly beat China's Sukhois, and we need it on Okinawa or Guam now. The F/A-22 can't fight the war we face today in Iraq. But it might prevent a far larger war on the Taiwan Strait.
That is a price worth paying.
RICHARD D. FISHER JR.