The F-22 could clearly have been used in the Libyan operation. Among the many benefits of its use would have been a significantly reduced operational footprint, a wider range of national command authority options, and enhanced impact of the deployed force.
The fact that it was not used could have been based on not wanting to display capabilities in this operation that have more impact on a different operational envelope. It could have been based on not exposing its performance to the Chinese ship deployed in the region.
But the stated reasons from the Administration are very puzzling. The argument that it could not talk to coalition aircraft or to those of the U.S. is simply belied by the realities of Red Flag exercises since 2006. The F-22 after killing everything in sight then remained on station to provide command and control functions for other aircraft
Clearly, it has proven itself to be not just the world’s most capable combat aircraft, but also a flying sensor platform with on-board capabilities allowing it to perform command and control as well as ISR functions that require a legion of specialized legacy aircraft.
The entire no-fly zone operation over in Libya could have been conducted with a squadron of F-22s. However, that would have obviated the need for any other coalition partner from participating and therefore was not a desirable option politically — ergo the primary rationale for not using F-22s to impose a NFZ in Libya.
Using legacy, non-stealth aircraft, to suppress the Libyan integrated air defense system required suppression/destruction to proceed with the imposition of a NFZ, but it also allowed for the participation of the multiple nations that made up the coalition.
The other reason stated in testimony to the Congress by senior USAF leaders is really rather amazing. The Air Force Chief of Staff stated that the plane was not deployed in Europe and therefore could not be used.
However, the Air Force rightfully prides itself in being ready to deploy aircraft around the world in a matter of hours regardless of where they are based. Last time I looked planes fly and can be deployed globally. The B-1 and the B-2 were used in the Libya operation and these aircraft were launched from the United States.
The real reasons may be more troubling. The non-use exposed some significant policy issues.
First, the modernization of the F-22, which Gates tells everyone he is doing, is not being provided for. Among many other things, the MADL link remains missing. The entire network to enable the F-22 and F-35 to work together is significantly underfunded.
Second, if the non-deployment of the F-22 was due to low numbers, or absence of deployed aircraft then you have simply proved General Corley’s assertion that we did not buy enough of them for the global needs of the United States. And, of course, firing the ACC commander because of this policy dispute would have been elevated as a potential policy issue.
Third, if it was not deployed because of inability to work with allies in the region, then you simply have highlighted the failure to deploy. The former Air Force leadership repeatedly sought to deploy the aircraft to the Middle East. The advantage of course is that allies and the USAF learn to work together in non-crisis in order to be ready for crises. So what was the motivation not to do this?
Fourth, the F-22 communicates with the type of aircraft used in the Coalition just as well as they do with each other — by use of its radio systems.
Fifth, the National Command Authority could have attacked the entire Libyan air force without the Libyans ever having seen the strike force. And the President could have had this option without deploying a much larger footprint. So why is more capability with a lighter footprint a bad idea?
All of this would be perhaps an important sidebar in U.S. history but for one reason: the national leadership is showing no willingness to engage in the transition of air power that 5th generation aircraft enable.
Why is one of the most innovative countries on earth unwilling to capitalize on the significant shift in air power innovation?
For all the reasons described above, the driving rationale for the type of aircraft used in this operation was politically based, not capability-based. However, the question remains: what in fact was the nature of the “politics” involved — altruistic in terms of enabling a coalition; or self-serving in terms of covering-up a questionable termination of the F-22 program?