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TEXT OF INTERVIEW
Steve Chiotakis: Last week, President Obama’s outlined his budget plan, and lawmakers are going back and forth about it. But the fight right now is over generalities. Specifics — including a big chunk for defense — will be out in April. That’s when we’ll find out the fate of Lockheed Martin’s F-22 Raptor, an aircraft the Pentagon’s already ordered more than 180 of. It is an expensive piece of machinery and the most technologically-advanced to date.
Mark Bowden is a reporter for The Atlantic. He writes about the F-22 in a piece this month, and he details the history — and the huge expense — of America’s military air superiority.
Mark Bowden: It’s fairly remarkable that the last American soldier killed by an enemy attack from the air was in April of 1953 in Korea. And that’s because the United States Air Force has had the skill levels and the equipment to completely dominate anyone in the world in the air.
Chiotakis: So Lockheed is trying to build on its successful F-15 and wants to build these super fast, super expensive F-22’s. But the air-to-air combat game is less frequent than ever. What’s their selling point?
Bowden: The selling point is that the advent of aircraft in other parts of the world — which today now 25, 30 years after the F-15 was introduced, are capable of challenging that fighter — have certainly increased the chances of the United States encountering opposition in the air. And so they want the F-22, which effectively moves the goal post out even further I think than the F-15 did a quarter of a century ago.
Chiotakis: Mark, this is a pretty stressed out economy, as we all know. What’s the determiner of whether something gets built?
Bowden: Well, there are so many factors, Steve. You know, from a military standpoint, you have to access the level of risk involved in giving up that measure of superiority. From a financial standpoint, I mean each one of these F-22’s are the most expensive fighters ever built. So on the surface of it, it makes a lot of sense just to decide we can’t afford them any more and we’ll have to accept the risk. But on the other hand, we’ve already invested billions of dollars. We have a production line for the F-22 which is up and running, and that includes contractors for 1,000 different parts in 44 different states throughout the country. So if you make the decision not to build the F-22, first of all it has an immediate impact on our economy, because that’s a huge contract being taken away from an industry. And secondly, you are abandoning a tremendous investment that you’ve made in this production line, which can not readily be restarted.
Chiotakis: Mark Bowden, reporter for The Atlantic Monthly. Mark, thank you for joining us.
Bowden: My pleasure, Steve, thank you.