The July 22 op-ed article by Air Force historian Richard Hallion, "Why We Need the F-22," protests too much. I flew off the USS Essex during World War II, and as every ex-fighter pilot who saw combat knows, "air superiority" and not "air supremacy," is the practical goal. Given reasonably matching aircraft capabilities, "air superiority" is the combination of superior personnel, pilot training and combat preparation, and top-level electronic capabilities backed up with outstanding supply and maintenance readiness. It is a national capability, not just a technical one.

Mr. Hallion's comparison of low air losses in Korea with the much higher ones in Vietnam is extremely misleading. The heavy losses in Vietnam were not due to Hanoi's superior aircraft but to the effectiveness of ground-to-air missiles. U.S. fighters were largely committed to ground-support bombing against various installations and military forces. This type of relatively slow and straight course flying (essential for accurate bombing or rocket delivery) makes planes vulnerable to antiaircraft fire as well as ground-to-air missiles.

This was true in World War II (long before the effectiveness of today's electronically guided missiles) -- when the air war in the Pacific was largely carrier-based planes supporting the fierce island-to-island Marine Corps and Army landings that had to dig out entrenched Japanese forces. Carrier fighter plane losses during that war were predominantly due to such ground-support action, not Japanese fighter planes.

Attempting to maintain "air supremacy" is a far too expensive option, with no limits to the constantly increasing design and manufacturing costs that decision then demands. We lack evidence yet that any other nation is producing -- or can produce -- fighter planes so advanced that our latest fighters (upgraded properly) would be truly vulnerable. That time may come, but at $222 million apiece, it will not be soon.

EDWARD W. OVERTON JR.

Annapolis