Word is that the F-22 fighter program will be cut back severely, to just a little over 100 fighters total. The original request was for over 700 airplanes. Though I doubt the Air Force will like this, it's good news. The money can be better spent elsewhere, including development of the follow-on to the F-22.
The F-22 was originally envisioned as, and seems fully capable of being, a stealthy air-superiority fighter that could fight effectively and survive in a battlespace fraught with radar-guided missiles and IR guided missiles, both surface-to-air (SAM) and air-to-air (AAM). These missiles are relatively cheap (anywhere from a few hundred thousand dollars apiece to about a million dollars) compared to the target they are taking down (F22s will cost over 200 million dollars apiece, and that number is likely to climb steeply if only 100 or so are bought by the US), and unbelievably accurate, even when one would hope they weren't. Europe would have presented such a battlefield. Afghanistan and Iraq did not. Our next battlefield may, and if it does, and the F22 is available, the men and women flying it into combat will appreciate everything it's been designed to do.
But battles aren't won just by having the best fighter aircraft. They are won jointly, by teams of warfighters. And each member of that team dips into a limited fund to procure the best equipment and warfighters that the nation can produce. It is a zero-sum game, where money spent on one branch of service, or one weapons system, means less money available to be spent elsewhere. And so each weapons system that needs billions of dollars over tens of years is looked at closely for mission fit, likely threat, advancement of present capability, future growth, total life-cycle costs (these include development, procurement, training, maintenance, upgrades, and eventually, decomissioning and demilitarizing) and about a hundred other criteria. There is no denying that the current Air Force air-superiority fighters are getting long in the tooth (about 30 years old on average), and that the next generation of possible threat aircraft from the EU and the Russians are expected to be better than our F-15s. That's probably the reasoning behind going ahead and purchasing 100+ aircraft. And there's no denying that taking ground and holding ground is near impossible until you control the airspace above that ground, and the F-22 will help in that task.
But there are tradeoffs in any zero-sum game. If the risk is near to zero that over the next twenty to thirty years the US will face a threat armed with the latest and greatest missiles and aircraft, then the need for the F-22 goes down. Way down. The F-14, F-15, F-16, F-18, and JSF are all capable of doing air-to-air combat; and variants of each of those aircraft, as well as the A-10 and AH-1 and AH-64 are all capable of supporting the ground manuever scheme. None of those aircraft are going away soon, and to consider replacing each F-15 with a next-generation aircraft at perhaps ten times the price is asking a lot, especially when the current F-15s are doing the job easily, and there are other aircraft out there doing the job as well. In addition, there are areas of the battlefield where we have very little defense. Tactical Ballistic Missiles (TBMs) and Inter-Continental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs) is one such area. The threat has missiles; thousands and thousands of missiles, though most are tactical, not strategic. We currently have only one weapon system (PATRIOT) that has any anti-missile capability. It has proven effective against TBMS, but not against ICBMs. Even more immediate is the threat of Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) and Vehicle-Borne Explosive Devices (VBEDs). There needs to be money directed at these current threats, and likely many more, that are appearing right now on the battlefield.
If the final numbers for the F-22 go down, some of the money that would have been spent on the F-22 will go to the sister services, some of it may go outside the DoD, and some of it should go right back to the folks who designed the F-22, with the mission to come up with the follow-on to that fighter. A hundred or so F-22s will give us a good idea of how the advancements in that fighter work out on the battlefield; what stuff needs to be improved, what needs to be dropped (the aircraft-based pilot is one thing being considered for getting dropped in the next generation of fighters), what needs to be kept as is, and what additional stuff needs to be developed and intigrated into the new fighter.
The decision to buy only 100+ of the new F-22 will be based upon risk assessment. And all risk assessment is based upon a bunch of assumptions and very few "knowns." Rumsfeld was chided for using the terms "known unknowns" and "unknown unknowns," but that is what risk assessment is...coming to a good decision with a bunch of "knowns", "known unknowns" and "unknown unknowns." The only alternative in the defense world is to build every weapon you can think of, in numbers that eat up a huge amount of GDP, manned by a huge number of soldiers, marines, sailors and airmen so that you can meet and defeat every threat, every where, always.
That is not only stupid, it's just not possible. Risks must be taken, decisions must be made, and in the case of a cutback on F-22s, I think that decision was the right one.