The F-22 Raptor, considered by many to be the most advanced fighter plane in existence, recently dropped bombs on a drug lab in Afghanistan.
While the Raptor airstrike was unarguably successful, many insiders in the defense industry are beginning to ask whether a mission of this kind was warranted, or represented the best and most appropriate use of the plane’s resources. The costs involved with employing the Raptor in an operation of this magnitude hover at around a staggering $70,000 per hour. Others are also calling into question the decision to carry out the action against an unprotected drug factory.
The bombing took place as part of Operation Jagged Edge, a military offensive targeted at weakening the Taliban’s drug production network. The heroin is sold by the group to fund their guerilla war efforts against both the Afghan government as well as its American allies. U.S. Forces Afghanistan General John Nicholson estimates that there are as many as 400 to 500 drug production sites operating at any given time in the country.
Defense Video Imagery Distribution System (DVIDS), a repository for video images of current as well as past military activity, released video footage of the bombing:
Though citing that strikes like this “represent the highest level of trust and cooperation between the ANDSF[Afghan National Defense and Security Forces] and USFOR-A[United States Forces-Afghanistan],” the common agreement in place is that air power can only be employed in cases of defending Afghan troops; however, there was a recent decision made to allow U.S. forces to act in a wider capacity in terms of target planning, which helps explain why Jagged Knife was carried out. A statement from Defense News confirmed that a total of 10 drug facilities were wiped out in one night.
The targets were reportedly in an area with a nearby civilian population, which means that a weapon featuring greater precision and a small explosive payload was required: the Small Diameter Bomb (SDB). The 113-kilogram bomb has the ability to fly more than 72 kilometers to land on its target. For the time being, only the F-22 and F-15 are cleared to use the SDB, which explains in part why the decision was made to use the Raptor.
At present flying the F-22 Raptor cost a whopping $68,362 per hour. And when one considers the costs of transportation before any given mission, as well as tanker support, the total cost for carrying out a round of missions becomes astronomical. The Afghan air force currently employes its equivalent, the A-29 Super Tucano, a light attack aircraft that costs only $1,000 per hour to fly, a pretty sizable savings in cost compared to the F-22.
This event really calls into question a growing dilemma faced by the Air Force. On the one hand, there is a very real and pressing need to maintain their arsenal of advanced fighters and bombers in order to demonstrate US presence, but on the other hand the reality is dawning on leadership within the military branch that greater care and attention must be given to budgetary considerations, and more relevantly, the specific aims that are connected to these budgetary decisions.