The plane may not be the answer to all of America's - much less the world's - security concerns, but it can play an important role. The costly design work is done. The production infrastructure is in place. And the benefits of sharing the F/A-22 regarding interoperability, increased force flexibility, U.S. diplomatic aims and boosting the industrial sector suggest Congress should at least hold hearings on the feasibility of exporting a modified, made-for-allies version of the plane.
In the meantime, the State Department needs to line up potential buyers and the Department of Defense should work with the aerospace industry to maximize interoperability and reduce any risk that technology might end up in the wrong hands.
If that can be accomplished, this aircraft affords a uniquely attractive opportunity to simultaneously support national security and economic and military modernization goals. Economic and industrial concerns should not drive defense policy, but there are benefits to exporting the F/A-22.
Because it is near deployment - the plane already is flying and will be deployed in December - the up-front costs have been met. Allowing sales of an export version would boost the manufacturing industry and its suppliers. That, in turn, could create economies of scale, spur competition and lower costs for the planes the United States purchases.
Because sustaining low-rate production of expensive platforms is difficult, offering the F/A-22 to international customers would be a more market-friendly approach to keeping the production lines open. It also would keep down the cost if the United States chooses to buy more than the 179 aircraft already on order.
Another benefit would be improved interoperability with allied forces. This would enable the U.S. Air Force to join quickly with allies for time-sensitive missions and give the United sStates more flexibility in prepositioning its aircraft around the world if allies have their own F/A-22 support systems.
Diplomatically, it is hard to overstate the potential benefits to the United States of offering allies this leading-edge technology and combat capability. Imagine the political symbolism of an up-and-coming country being allowed to establish such a public link with the world's only superpower. Similarly, sharing such technology with regional allies can only improve our own security.
It seems increasingly likely that future conflicts will be fought with coalition partners - from the combat stage through the stabilization and post-conflict stages. As America's military has become more reliant on technology, it must find ways to enable those allies to operate effectively at our side. Sharing weapon technology, where possible and practical, helps reach this goal.
Critics charge that the cost of the F/A-22 exceeds the means of most potential customers. The same arguments emerged when the F-15, F-16 and F/A-18 were offered for sale. Today, more than 20 nations fly or soon will fly the F-16, and more than 4,000 new combat aircraft and advanced jet trainers will be delivered this year.
The F/A-22 will be at the high end of the market, for sure. But, as in any market, purchasers are willing to pay more to get the best.
Finally, there is the sensitive issue of technology transfer to a third party. This risk can't be taken lightly. It cost the United States billions to achieve the tactical superiority it holds, and it never should become available to potential adversaries. But a standard feature of sales agreements for these types of weapons is a clear statement prohibiting the export of the technology, and it should be offered only to countries that take such promises seriously.
Moreover, the most sensitive technologies on the F/A-22 simply need not be included on the version manufactured for export.
When America makes this kind of investment in technology, it needs to get full use of it. Our armed forces need to use it to maintain their superiority, but it also should be used to promote interoperability with our allies, diplomatic aims near and far, regional security and our economy.
Sales of a modified, export version of the F/A-22 would meet all those goals and should be considered immediately.
Jack Spencer is a senior policy analyst for defense and national security in the Davis Institute for International Studies at The Heritage Foundation.
First appeared in Defense News