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Does the U.S. Air Force need the F-22 and F-35?

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 7/3/2013 Category: Technology
Updated: 3 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 2,331 times Debate No: 35263
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I propose a discussion about whether or not the U.S. Air Force needs fifth generation fighter jets, notably the F-22 Raptor and F-35 Lightning II. I will be arguing that it does not and that these programs have been a misguided effort.

Two Rounds, one for talking points, and another for counter arguments.

First round is for acceptance.


I accept your challenge to talk about the USAF's controversial 5th-gen jet fighters.
Debate Round No. 1


Thank you for accepting my debate. But before I start my arguments, I would like to make sure everyone knows what a fifth generation fighter jet is. (Apologies If i use Wikipedia for definitions and stuff, but Id like to make this quick).

A fighter aircraft that incorporates:

High maneuverability
Advanced avionics
Networked data fusion from sensors and avionics
Multirole capabilities

The two most prevalent 5th gen fighter aircraft are the USAF's F-22 and F-35, but Russia, China, and Iran (laughably) have also introduced their own designs.

The current program cost for the F-22 and F-35 are $66 billion and $400 billion respectively, the latter being the most expensive weapons program in history. When procurement is finally completed, there should be around 180 F-22s and about 1400 F-35s for the Air Force, but its the outrageous cost per plane for such a smaller fleet of tactical aircraft that we must seriously question the utility and need for fifth generation fighters.

But lets start with the F-22.

My argument against the F-22 will be centered on facts that this is an inferior aircraft and that the Air Force must reset its priorities when it comes to achieving air superiority. For my criticism of the F-22, it's not that the USAF doesn't need them, as much as it needs something better, more numerous, cheaper, and with a different design emphasis - like drones.

Criticism for the F22:

- no helmet mounted display or off bore sight missile capability.

Most of the F-22 fleet currently lacks helmet mounted displays to take advantage of its off bore sight missile capability made possible by the Aim-9x. It can certainly be upgraded to achieve this capability, but until then, the F-22 will be at a disadvantage against its likely competitors from Russia and China who have it. The F-22's thrust vectoring and manuverability is good compared to the planes that it will be replacing, but offbore sight missiles that can fire in any direction make close range dogfighting extremely lethal and demands a much better counter and weaponry than the F22 currently provides. And if we were to believe this arguement, why not instead invest in a sixth generation fighter or even a UCAV. It would potentially be more maneuverable and survivable in a dogfight than an F22 ever could.

- inferior range and speed compared to the existing F-15 and future rivals.

Though I concede that true specs might still be classified, even so drones would have greater range and speed.

-inferior numbers and crazy price

The $150 million flyaway cost for an F22 is absurd and has resulted in fewer aircraft that is needed to replace the F15 fleet. The Air Force should either purchase more F-15s at a lower cost, which can be upgraded to the Silent Eagle variant, or invest in cheaper drones that can shoot down other aircraft.

- German typhoons defeated the F22s at red flag.

Quite humiliating for the Pentagon to tout the F22 as the unrivaled air dominance fighter for the next 25 years when they were defeated at close range by a generation inferior aircraft. Russia's T-50 is also expected to be a much better dogfighter than the F22

-inferior datalink.

The much vaunted datalinking that allows the F22 to communicate stealthily only works with other F-22s

-Problems with oxygen poising pilots and pricey maintaince.

Solution: buy more drones.

-too expensive to risk in combat over SAM sites that are expected to be even better and more numerous in the future.

Again, more drones!

-only thing going for the F-22 is stealth but at an unreliable doctrine.

The F22 hands down is the most stealthy plane in the sky today (but drones are potentially stealthier). But even so, it won't be the only fighter with stealth technology, as I mentioned before, Russia and China will be building their own fleet of stealth aircraft, where they are designing them to have greater range, maneuverability, and to be fielded In greater numbers at a much lower cost. The reason why Russia and China want aircraft that are more suited for close range engagement is that in the future where all aircraft are stealthy no one would ever dare activate their radars in fear of giving themselves away, actual air-combat therefore, might not commence until aircraft are well within visual range for a classic dogfight. This complicates things for the F22 which is designed more for BVR combat with its superior sensors and long range standoff capability. Like i said before, it has yet to take advantage of a helmet mounted display. Plus, how many Chinese aircraft can an F22 really shoot down before it has to refuel and rearm? The F-22 will be badly outnumbered.

Overall, Id say the F22 still has a better combat doctrine -first look, first shot, and first kill- but because we have never seen stealth aircraft going against other stealth aircraft before, and because we can expect a horrendous quantitative advantage on the other side, it really could go either way. Here, I again propose UAV swarms as a better investment for the Air Force.

-lack of need for pure air superiority fighters

Current fourth generation fighter aircraft, like the F-15 have perfect combat records, plus there has not been really much need for aerial engagement since desert storm. In the latest Iraq war, the entire Iraqi Air Force never even left the ground. The threats that the F-22 is designed for aren't there yet, but when they do come, the F-22 will probably be outmatched due to its noticeable shortcomings that I've been mentioning.

Now on to the F-35, which is really a dummed down F-22, jack of all trades and master of nothing.

-One engine with no thrust vectoring or super cruise ability.

Reason was because it was suppose to make the airframe more affordable, which it didn't. The result was an inferior weapons platform as far as flight performance is concerned, and calls for a new engine.

-inferior AA and AG payloads with stealth flaws.

Most of the SEAD and wild weasel missions the F35 will need to perform still requires that weapons be put on external wing pylons, seriously compromising the survivability and stealth features of the plane.

- designs were hacked and copied by China

Now everyone knows how to defeat the plane.

-unproven combat capability.

Just so many software glitches and problems with avionics and the electronic suite that it makes me wonder if all those quirky gizmos will really work in actual combat. DAS for instance looks impressive, but 7 and not 1 IR sensors on a plane has never been done before.

I also question the multi role airframe. The A-10 for instance is a dedicated ground attack aircraft and features a rugged shape and low speed design perfect for loitering around the battlefield and making tight turns to get in and out of danger. The F-35 tries to do too much with its shape and expected load out and would have trouble maintaining its structural integrity with its close air support role.

-crazy price tag

Most expensive weapons program in history. Seems like the money should have went into buying more F-22s instead of an inferior platform. Also, for $400 billion, science fiction like airborne lasers that dominate missiles and planes altogether might have been a wiser investment.

So now that I've complied most of my criticisms, I'd like to ask my opponent, do we really need them? Or do we need something better? And have these programs with all their flaws been a misguided effort and waste of time and resources?


My opponent has criticized the lack of a HMD on the F-22. However, the USAF has recently begun to look into the Visionix Scorpion HMCS for use on the F-22. Will we have the entire F-22 fleet equipped with it by tomorrow? No. But will the Russians and Chinese declare war on us tomorrow? No. There is still plenty of time for the USAF and Lockheed Martin to upgrade, update, cut costs, and improve the Raptor.

My opponent also compares the F-22 to the F-15 and "future rivals". There is no doubt in my mind that the F-22 in the "future" will be one far superior than the one my opponent chastises. The F-22's thrust vectoring is a key advantage the Raptor possesses. In a dogfight, it is quite likely that this capability prove useful. The difference in speed between the F-22 and the F-15 is not as great as my opponent makes it seem. And let us not forget that the F-22 and F-15 were built to get the job done in two distinct ways. While the F-15 is an aircraft meant to enter the thick of the battle and engage in intense combat, the F-22 is meant to get in the air (*without* anyone noticing) and down enemy aircraft from a distance before scurrying away.

Criticizing the price tag, my opponent suggests that the USAF improve it's F-15 fleet or augment the drone fleet. If the USAF and the Pentagon truly want to have a chance at maintaining its grip over the skies against other nations, they MUST pour money into the future and not the past. The F-15 is a true and tried veteran of American aerial combat. However, as our competitors and possible adversaries also begin working on their own fifth-generation fighters, I am confused as to why growing an aging F-15 fleet is the answer. If American troops and sailors want to look up into the air and continue to see friendly skies, it is imperative that we look ahead and not behind us. Newer technologies and models have always been more expensive and I'm sure all of them had issues that required modification. It is also the more expensive and the more innovative that has allowed the US to surpass the air forces of our rivals and allowed us to keep the skies clear of anything not red, white and blue.

Like I mentioned earlier, the F-22 Raptor is meant to fight in a different manner. Getting into the air without alerting anyone of its presence and striking from afar. The F-22 performed "with a very high mission success rate" at Red Flag. My opponent fails to mention the crucial fact that Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta imposed strict restrictions on the F-22 due to fears of oxygen problems that existed at the time. My opponent also fails to take note that the F-22 lost to the Eurofighter in the very one-on-one, close-range confrontations it was built to avoid. In addition to these crucial omissions by my opponent, the German airmen piloting the Eurofighter were stunned by the capabilities of the F-22. They openly admitted that they were unable to get within 20 miles of the Raptor before being targeted. As long as the F-22 fights like it is meant to, which it seems to do very well, it is a highly adept and lethal aircraft, able to hold its own in the skies.

The datalink that has attracted much criticism not only by my opponent, but other critics of the F-22 is soon to be fixed.

The oxygen problems that have caused many a pilot to go unconscious in-flight is also believed to be fixed. The problem may not have been with the plane, but the clothing of the pilot. The paint that supplements the F-22's stealth abilities may also have been a cause.


Drones have become popular within the USAF. In fact, there are more drone pilots being trained than actual plane pilots. However, drones are still a supplement in the case of an all-out, conventional war. They have proven themselves to be unreliable in dogfights with actual aircraft (i.e. the Iraqi Mig vs US Predator). In addition, it is unlikely that drones will be able to carry a payloads as large as the ones found on conventional aircraft. Creating a drone fleet capable of carrying out piloted aircraft is unnecessary. If that was truly the best solution, why doesn't the USAF simply integrate UAV capabilities into it's already existing jets?

-Other stealth fighters

My opponent seems to forget that the USAF will be producing more planes in the future. Several of the technical issues raised by my opponent have or are currently being solved. Who is to say that the F-22 cannot become better and more deadly through improvement and new variants? In addition, the scenario involving close-range Russian and Chinese fighters is invalid. Like I mentioned earlier, the supposedly "superior" Eurofighter Typhoon the F-22 was defeated by was only able to win once it got close to the F-22: within visual range. The F-22 is not only meant to kill from a distance and before the other pilot sees him, but it can also kill *multiple* targets from a distance. So what good a group of Russian and Chinese close-range fighters would do against a plane meant to win in those very situations is beyond me.

Wars will not be fought between the "Chinese aircraft" and the F-22's. Wars will be fought between the "Chinese aircraft" and the American aircraft. The USAF has one of the most technologically advanced aircraft in the world and it will not fight wars with only one kind of plane. The F-22 will not be the only American jet in the air, there will be other more close-range fighters, planes meant for in-flight refueling, and the US 7th Fleet in the Pacific ready to receive, rearm and send out returning planes.

It is better to be prepared and hold the bigger gun than trying to build a big gun when your enemy already has one. America has been caught off guard in the past. We should not make that mistake again and allow others to outpace us.

F-35 My opponent points out the lack of thrust vectoring and the fact that there is but one engine on the F-35, as opposed to the F-22. However, I must remind my opponenet that the plane has the ability to take off from short runways and can land in places without any runways. I agree that it is a jack of all trades and master of nothing, but I must remind my opponent that it is not detrimental to have a plane that is well-rounded. Since the F-35 dabbles in many areas and it cannot be the perfect plane in every aspect of aerial warfare, there are many points to criticize. However, we do not need anymore single-purpose (mainly) planes, especially if planes just as the A-10 Warthog excel in their areas of expertise as my opponenet asserts. In addition, my opponent fails to note the number of F-35's that are to be produced. The DoD (Department of Defense) proposes to have over 2,000 of these F-35's to be assembled. This plane would solve the inferiority in numbers my opponenet criticized about the F-22 and this plethora of "jack-of-all-trades" planes will be able to successfully carry out their missions. Also, the F-35 has several years to improve and upgrade itself, just as the F-22 has.

In closing, there seems to be but one argument that continues to hold its full weight: the price. The aircraft will be expensive, but contracted work and cost-cutting will and always has occured over time. Now, I must ask my opponent: do we really want to build a horde of old planes to fight inevitably advanced enemy aircraft in the future? Do we really want to wait until their planes are over our heads before building something that can match theirs'? Planes can be improved, as the F-22 has shown, and my opponent seems to forget that, blinded by fixable (and fixed) problems and monetary worries.
Debate Round No. 2


I unfortunately do not have the time to make a more detailed closing arguement, but I want to thank my opponent for his points and then briefly summarize what I believe my best ones are.

1. Problems with BVR combat and doctrine.

The F-35 and the F-22 especially are designed for BVR combat and long range missile shots in order to achieve air superiority. The problem I argue here is that stealth vs stealth aircraft has never been done before, and outside red flag training scenarios, Air Force planners still do not know too much what to expect. Other countries like China and Russia are betting on the fact that in the era of stealth fighters nobody will be foolish enough to even turn on their radar and sensors - less they give themselves away. The result of this theory, are designs for more nimble and agile aircraft when compared to the F-35 and even the F-22, a point I think my opponent would even agree with me on. The Su-35 for instance, is already more maneuverable than the F-22 (3D thrust vectoring vs. the F-22's 2D thrust vectoring) and we've already seen what the Eurofighter can do to the Raptor if its gets up close.

Now maneuverability isn't just for close in dogfighting, but for also escaping incoming missiles, such as the long range AMRAAM shots we can expect from the F-22. How good are the AMRAAMs going to be? - Is one question I propose to my opponent, because historically BVR missiles have only been about 50% accurate in actual combat (RAND Study). Though I concede the point that nearly 80% of all air to air kills in history were because the pilot couldn't see the other plane (which is the historical basis of the "first look, first shot, first kill" doctrine), I argue the F-22's and F-35's future 5th generation adversaries will at least be able to see the missiles coming - Russia is leaps and bounds ahead of the US in the IR sensors department and will be able to spot the flares of incoming missiles, where then the maneuverability of the PAK FA and others will then ensure the survival of the plane against missile threats until it can get in close. And as stealthy and as good as the F-22 is at stealth and staying hidden, the detection range and first shot advantage for the F-22 agaisnt the PAK FA has only been estimated by some analysts as 25 nm to fire a missile before its detected by the PAK FA's IR sensors (Carlo Kopp, Austrailain Airpower). And once the planes are in a close range dogfight, it's pretty much a guarantee the F-22 will be at a disadvantage - lack of helmet mounted display for offboresight missiles, inferior maneuverability, weaker IR sensors.

2. Too expensive and too few.

My opponent is right that the biggest weakness of the F-22 and F-35 is its price, and because of that we can expect them to be fielded in fewer numbers when compared to expected adversaries. How much can quality compensate for quantity? Is another question I propose to my opponent, because quality obviously didn't help the Me 262 too much in its day. And what happens when you run out of missiles? Is perhaps my last question. It's not just more aircraft the F-35 and F-22 will need to contend with, but also wider battlefields, thicker air defenses, and more numerous and mobile SAM sites. Refueling and rearming is going to be a huge problem, and the Air Force still doesn't have a new tanker yet.

The huge disparity in numbers and logistical problems is one reason I argued for more legacy fighters and F-15s, even at the cost of more F-22s and F-35s. The F-15 still has an unbeaten combat record and is cheap enough to be fielded in the numbers the Air Force needs to counter the future threat of being outnumbered.

3. The future is not with 5th gen fighters.

My opponent has centralized his advocacy for the F-22 and F-35 on the need to counter future threats and to be future oriented. And I agree with him that the Air Force "needs" must be future oriented, however I argue that given my above two points above, the future is not with these two designs. The proper investment should be on drones that can complete an air superiority and ground attack role. They will be cheaper, more numerous, more stealthy, faster, more maneuverable, more survivable, and fly for greater hours and missions at a time than any manned aircraft possibly can. Finally, if there is still some investment money left over, why not invest in airborne lasers? The designs for lasers to be put on planes is no longer sci fiction, and once done, pretty much everything that moves in the sky is obsolete.

In his closing arguements, my opponent should consider which weapon systems properly meets the needs of the future.

Thank you for a good debate!


rokmc87 forfeited this round.
Debate Round No. 3
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1 votes has been placed for this debate.
Vote Placed by Mikal 3 years ago
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Total points awarded:10 
Reasons for voting decision: Conduct to Con due to FF