The F-22 Raptor is one of the most advanced aircraft to ever take to the skies. It is still unmatched as an air superiority fighter. The jet is still on the ramparts, as well. Only recently, the Pentagon forward-deployed the F-22 Raptor to Japan as a deterrent against Chinese and North Korean aggression.
However, the first stealth fighter jet is getting old. It first flew 25 years ago and has been in service for almost 18 years.
A Superior Machine
The F-22 Raptor entered service in 2005. The world’s first fifth-generation fighter, it instantly became the U.S. Air Force’s most comPetent air superiority aircraft.
An extremely flexible aircraft, the F-22 Raptor uses two Pratt & Whitney F119-PW-100 turbofan engines that can produce more than 70,000 pounds of combined thrust.
Moreover, the aircraft is equipped with a two-dimensional thrust vectoring system that allows it to perform some amazing air acrobatics – the F-22 Raptor can be flying in one direction and then use its thrust vectoring capabilities to almost instantly change its direction.
With an operational ceiling of 65,000 feet and an effective range of 1,850 miles (with the addition of two external fuel tanks that would increase the aircraft’s detectability), the F-22 Raptor is a potent fighter jet.
When it comes to weapons, the F-22 Raptor can carry quite a lot. In an air superiority mission set loadout, the F-22 Raptor can carry an M61A2 20-mm cannon with 480 rounds for dogfighting, as well as two AIM-9 Sidewinder heat-seeking air-to-air missiles and six AIM-120 AMRAAM radar-guided air-to-air missiles.
If the F-22 Raptor is instead tasked with an air-to-ground mission, then it can pack two 1,000lb GBU-32 JDAMs, AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles, and two AIM-120 AMRAAM missiles, or eight 250lb SDB bombs, two AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles, and two AIM-120 AMRAAM missiles.
To Update or Not? That Is the Question
Over the summer, the Department of Defense issued a proposal to phase out approximately 30 F-22 Raptors – the oldest fighter jets that are primarily used for training – in order to reallocate the funds used for their maintenance to the remaining fleet of about 150 F-22 Raptors.
However, the House Armed Services Committee not only declined, but required the Air Force to upgrade the older F-22 Raptors with the latest weapon employment capabilities and mission systems and sensors, thus making them capable of undertaking combat missions. The upgrade is set to cost approximately $1 billion.
“We think there’s significant risk in meeting future air superiority requirements. And so we’re holding the Air Force accountable to their commitment to have the training-coded jets combat capable,” a staffer at the House Armed Services Committee had said about Congress’ decision to push back on the Air Force’s plan.
The Pentagon in 2021 awarded Lockheed Martin an indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity contract worth almost $11 billion to update and maintain the F-22 Raptor, thus ensuring it can stay relevant in a near-peer conflict.
THE FUTURE OF THE F-22 RAPTOR
Arguably, the F-22 Raptor is the most comPetent air superiority fighter jet in the skies today. It has the smallest radar cross-section of any stealth aircraft in the world. However, its age is showing.
It is not that the aircraft itself is no longer effective, it is that air defense systems and radar sensors are getting more advanced, leaving the F-22 Raptor with outdated stealth Technology. Assessments suggest that the stealth fighter jet might not be considered survivable in a near-peer conflict, especially against China, beyond 2030.
As a result, the Air Force is already looking to its replacement, with the sixth generation fighter jet of the Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) program, which is set to replace the F-22 Raptor.
Initially, the Pentagon planned to purchase about 750 F-22 Raptors. However, despite the promise of the stealth fighter jet, which still hasn’t been outclassed in air superiority missions by other fighter jets, the Department of Defense limited production to only 186 airplanes.
The F-22 Raptor is one of the few U.S. fighter jets in recent History that hasn’t been exported to any other country, including close U.S. allies such as Japan and Israel.