The F-22 Raptor May Be Replaced By...Sniper Blimps?

Originally designed to fight the Soviets in WWIII, the F-22 Raptor has never seen combat. And now, Barack Obama needs to decide whether to keep building them or kill the plane forever.

Each F-22 costs $US143 million, and at stake is a $US9 billion proposal to build 60 more Raptors over the next three years. Defence Secretary Robert Gates is fine with axing the program (as was the Bush administration, who has of course deferred the decision), favouring instead the development of unmanned UAVs that are more adept at the reconnaissance and surgical strikes used in fighting terrorists, not the air-to-air dogfights that would have been expected when facing up to a Soviet superpower with its own modern air force. The L.A. Times cites one such unmanned project as "a small blimp equipped with an automated high-powered sniper rifle that could provide a form of inexpensive but effective air support for platoons in Afghanistan."

The decision is a dicey one, because while saving money in the Pentagon's budget, a decision to axe the F-22 would mean a loss of jobs and defence contracts for U.S. workers. Unsurprisingly, the F-22's most vocal supporters are in Congress; the jet uses parts from 1,000 suppliers spread across 44 states. That's a lot of pork, and if we know there's one way to make someone sad, it's take away their pork. The NYTimes quotes Democratic congressman Norman Dicks saying "I think we're going to keep the F-22 going, that's my gut instinct." Someone tell this dude that "following your gut" is so over! [NYTimes, LA Times]

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