Asia Scope

China, Russia to challenge US air dominance?

A US Senate panel’s recommendation that the US Air Force begin work on an export version of the fifth-generation F-22 stealth fighter has already drawn criticism this week from a top service official, Air Force Chief of Staff General Norton Schwartz. Schwartz, who said the move would not be the ‘best use’ of the service’s time.

The Senate had already voted in July to end production of the costly aircraft, with cost concerns compounded by a ban on the sale of the aircraft even to close allies such as Australia and Japan. But as the Center for Strategic and International Studies pointed out in a briefing earlier this year:

“[D]efence acquisition cuts carry risks. Budget decisions must be consistent with a clear defense strategy. In particular, operational, financial and industrial-base factors have to be considered before opting to reduce defense acquisition spending.”

And it is the first of these factors, which the report says should be driven “by threat and capability assessments”, which could be complicated by speculation that the proliferation of advanced Chinese and Russian fighters could begin to undermine the United States’ traditional dominance of the skies.

Speaking in Washington this week, Air Force Lt. Gen. David Deptula, the service’s head of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, reportedly warned that both nations are developing competitively priced fifth-generation fighters that he says would offer “near F-22 performance…while attempting to proliferate the [aircraft] to perhaps near F-35 like quantities.”

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For anyone interested in a glimpse of why Japan and others have been so keen to acquire this aircraft, take a look at this video of a demonstration flight shot last year.