|SLUG: 5-49482 Stealth Fighter
INTRO: If there is one high-priority item the U-S Air Force wants after all the latest defense budget and planning reviews are over, it is a new tactical combat fighter aircraft designated the F-22 and nicknamed the Raptor. V-O-A Pentagon Correspondent Alex Belida has just flown an F-22 simulator and has this report.
/// SFX: BEEP BEEP "SAM LAUNCH" ///
Though there are four enemy fighters approaching, there are no threat warnings to indicate the Raptor has come within range of their air-to-air missiles. Nor are there any alerts of impending surface-to-air missile launches from ground defense units.
Instead, the F-22 Raptor, in full stealth mode, cruises through the skies over this imaginary enemy territory, its low radar profile leaving it undetected and undisturbed. Using its own sophisticated and powerful radar, it locks quickly onto the oncoming enemy jets. The on-board computer automatically ranks them in order of potential threat. As they come into the Raptor's range, I fire.
/// SFX: MISSILE FIRING ROARS ///
The central display screen in the cockpit tracks the progress of the missiles as they hone in on their unwary targets. One by one, they are hit and they are destroyed. They never had a chance.
/// SFX: BOOM, BOOM, BOOM, BOOM
The Raptor simulator is a video-game player's dream machine - a mock cockpit you have to climb into filled with joy sticks, push buttons, display screens and even a fake ejection seat control.
But it represents a real fighter with very real capabilities - an aircraft the Air Force envisions as the premier fighter of the 21st century.
Keith Miller is an Air Force major and my guide at the simulator site in a Northern Virginia office complex. Major Miller says the Raptor - with its "first look, first shoot, first kill" capability - will guarantee the United States continued air superiority well into the future.
/// MILLER ACTUALITY 1 ///
I don't think there is anyone can match this airplane in the sky.
/// END ACTUALITY ///
The problem, according to the Air Force, is what happens if Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld or Congress decide not to go forward with full-scale production of the F-22.
Today's main U-S fighter, the F-15, was built in the 1970s. The Air Force says it will soon be outclassed by several foreign-manufactured aircraft. By 2005, the Air Force says, flying the F-15 into combat will be like driving an aging and outmoded car in a premier, world-class racing event.
Again, Major Miller:
/// MILLER ACTUALITY 2 ///
We built some fighters in the '70s and '80s and they've been tremendous airplanes for the Air Force and they've done tremendous work in Desert Storm and Deny Flight and all the operations we've been involved in. But it's time to move forward, to take that step in technology and that's what the F-22 provides us.
/// END ACTUALITY ///
But for all its advanced avionics, stealth capability, and ultra-maneuverability, the aircraft has critics. Some focus on cost, saying the F-22 will be the most expensive fighter in history. Estimates by independent defense analysts indicate each Raptor will cost more than 150-million dollars - nearly twice what the Air Force estimates.
Other critics question the strategic need for the F-22. They say there are no real enemy aircraft on the horizon that are remotely capable to the current F-15 - making the expense of the Raptor unacceptable.
/// SFX: SIMULATOR BEEPS AND PLAYS 'TAPS' ///
Having dispatched with the enemy fighters, the Raptor simulator has now dropped two J-DAMS, or joint direct attack munitions, on ground targets. As the targets are destroyed, the simulator plays the traditional military funeral song, 'Taps.'
It's just a joke at the enemy's expense, designed to prompt a laugh after a successful simulator mission.
But with billions of dollars and the Air Force's modernization program at stake, pilots like Major Miller are hoping no one will be someday playing 'Taps' for the F-22 Raptor. (Signed)