F/A-22 Offers Unique Candidate for Export
It's not every day the United States considers selling military
equipment, even to its closest allies. But the F/A-22 Raptor might
be an exception.
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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