While you slept, the Georgia-built F-22 Raptor, the most expensive fighter plane of all time, finally saw combat.
The F-22, assembled by Lockheed in Marietta, has had a troubled history, largely due to its price tag. Almost 200 of the planes, allegedly the most advanced air-superiority aircraft in the world, were built at a cost of $67 billion.
Curiously, the plane was first used in combat three years after its 16-year production run (1996-2011) ended.
The Wall Street Journal’s story of the Syrian bombings mentions the F-22 was part of a coordinated air strike that also included 47 Tomahawk cruise missiles.
The WSJ says “The airstrikes in Syria will mark the first time the U.S. has used the F-22, its most advanced aircraft, in battle. Even when attacking Libyan air defenses, the Pentagon avoided deploying F-22s, which are stationed at a base in the U.A.E.”
Why was the F-22 finally used?
According to reports, Syria has advanced Russian radar installations that would have picked up less-stealthy military aircraft.
The F-22 can also fly higher and drop guided bombs from a greater distance away from its target than other fighters. The WSJ says an F-22 can drop a 1,000-pound guided bomb from 15 miles away.
An older F-18 Super Hornet costs about $51 million per plane, while the newest fighter, the F-35, which will seemingly be shared with the world’s air forces, costs about $135 million per unit, not counting development costs.
The most expensive plane? Probably the B-2 Spirit bomber. Twenty-one of the iconic, stealthy planes were built by Northrop Grumman at a unit cost of almost $800 million each. But, unlike the F-22, the B-2 has been used frequently since it became operational in the early 1990s.
Funding for the F-22 was killed by the U.S. Senate in 2009 after Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the air-superiority fighter was not well-suited for combat against enemies who didn’t have modern planes (Iraq, Afghanistan).
Will the F-22 finally be worth what we paid for it? I have no idea. But I do know the next time a big military spending bill comes up, some politician is sure to remind us the next Russian or Chinese warplane requires us to spend even more.