Let’s say you’ve got a really expensive fighter aircraft that you don’t use in the two wars you’re fighting. You’ve got 183 of them, but that’s just not enough. Over the years you’ve typically said that you want 381 of them. But then the secretary of defense points out that you don’t use the planes in the two wars you’re fighting, and, to boot, the country is in an economic tailspin. So what do you do?

One option is to set up a PR campaign to portray the jobs created by manufacturing the F-22 as crucial in these dark economic times. But another is to tell reporters that — magnanimously! — you’re going to consider asking for fewer than 381 planes. So said the Air Force Chief of Staff, Gen. Norton Schwarz, as Roxana Tiron of The Hill reports:

Gen. Norton Schwartz said that the Air Force is looking to buy more than the 183 radar-evading F-22s now ordered, but fewer than the 381 planes the Air Force has insisted on in past years. …

The Air Force’s position is “driven by analysis as opposed to some other formulation, and I think it will withstand scrutiny,” Schwartz said.

Um. It’s a savvy move: you’re not going to be so unreasonable as to seek the huge numbers of aircraft that you’re not using in either hot war; you’re just going to ask for some larger number of the F-22. (Schwartz said he wasn’t going to comment on the specific number of F-22s he’ll tell Secretary Bob Gates he needs by March 1.) And it can work! Somehow the Wall Street Journal portrayed the service’s abandonment of the 321-plane dream as a cut to the program, even though Schwartz is explicit about asking for more than the 183 aircraft. Savvy negotiating. But for a more, uh, skeptical view of an aircraft that isn’t used in either Iraq or Afghanistan, read this and this.

Update: Colin Clark at DODBuzz says the Air Force is going to ask f0r 60 more F-22s. That’s via Noah Shachtman.

Crossposted to The Streak.

Spencer Ackerman

Spencer Ackerman