“We have done an awesome job producing this awesome aircraft,” said Lockheed Martin Vice President and Site General Manager Shan Cooper at the rollout ceremony. “While we’re saddened to see the production line stop, we’re really excited about the future. We’re really excited about the opportunities to be creative and innovative, and we’ve proven just by looking at this aircraft that we know just how to do that, which is fantastic.”
From a local economic perspective, the program initially helped keep the plant viable during a period when many of the plant’s other aircraft programs were winding down. It, along with the other planes assembled there, provided well-paying jobs to tens of thousands of local residents through the years and remains one of the premier manufacturing facilities in the entire country.
The Raptor was significant in the plant’s history for another reason as well: The Raptor was the only fighter ever to go into mass production at the plant, which for most of its life has focused on building bombers and cargo planes.
The plant will now shift into maintenance and upgrade mode for the F-22. It’s not a stretch to imagine it filling that role for decades and decades to come, as the Raptor is likely to be the most vital aircraft in the national defense arsenal well into mid-century.
The Pentagon initially was expected to buy more than 1,400 copies of the Raptor, but began cutting down that number almost as soon as Lockheed had won the $11.1 billion contract. The cuts accelerated at the end of the Cold War due to the plane’s high cost and the misplaced perception there was no longer a clear mission for it. The program’s demise came at the hands of President Obama, those he appointed to run the Pentagon and short-sighted budget hawks in Congress (of both parties).
But its critics should take a good look around. China is now the dominant power in Asia and has a long history of territorial expansion and disregard for human rights. Ditto Russia, which under Vladimir Putin is slamming the door on democracy and trying hard to rebuild its military. And let’s not forget their frequent ally Iran, which is on the verge of triggering a Middle East race to go nuclear.
Keep in mind as well the fact that both China and Russia now have built fighter jets that look like clones of the Raptor. It’s not known whether they have the F-22’s flying and fighting capabilities — but if they do not, it’s only a matter of time.
For now, the F-22 is the unchallenged king of the skies. And not only does it help ensure we have air superiority against any foe, the knowledge of its capabilities is enough to prevent all but the most reckless of countries from wanting to go to war against us.
There is no other weapon (short of nuclear ones) as capable of putting “the fear of god” into our potential enemies as the F-22. As Cooper said on Tuesday, it’s “the baddest bird on the planet.”
And we have Lockheed Martin, and those who labor at the plant in Marietta, to thank for that.