The F-22 Raptor Stealth Fighter Has Only One Real Enemy

Politics might have been the real enemy of the F-22 Raptor: When the F-22 Raptor first took to the skies, American officials were confident that U.S. air superiority would be maintained for years. As the world’s first-ever fifth-generation fighter, the formidable platform was truly unmatched by any other airframe. 

Combining stealth, maneuverability, supercruise, and integrated avionics, the Raptor embodied the future of warfighting capabilities.

The F-22 was an obvious powerhouse of an airframe, yet its production was cut short in 2011. Today, the Air Force only has 185 remaining Raptors and only around 120 of those jets are used in the service’s primary mission aircraft inventory. 

As the Air Force continues to develop its highly anticipated Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) program – including a new sixth-generation fighter jet platform – the service hopes to relegate the Raptors to retirement. Pointing to the airframe’s hefty maintenance costs, the Air Force wants to reallocate funds to its new program.

However, a deep dive into the F-22’s history indicates that the platform’s potential may have been stymied by politics. 

A brief overview of the Raptor:

The F-22’s impressive reputation shared by military experts and aviation buffs alike is well-deserved. In the 1980s, the Air Force began its search for a replacement platform for its aging F-15 Eagle and F-16 Fighting Falcon airframes. 

The service’s Advanced Tactical Fighter, dubbed the “Senior Sky,” was designed to better position America’s aerial arsenal against emerging threats. Around this time, the Soviet Union’s Su-27 Flanker and Mikoyan MiG-29 Fulcrum were underway, posing direct threats to American fighter platforms. The Navy also wanted to secure a replacement platform for its F-14 Tomcat fighter under its own Navalized Advanced Tactical Fighter program. Ultimately, manufacturing giants were encouraged to collaborate on both programs to develop new cutting-edge technology that could be implemented in the next-generation airframe. 

By the early 1990s, Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman developed two demonstrator prototypes, the YF-22 and the YF-23, respectively. Within the decade, the Air Force selected the YF-22 prototype as its new fighter. The resulting F-22 took its maiden flight by the end of the decade and officially entered service with the Air Force in the early 2000s. However, the platform’s lengthy production timeline was prolonged by various factors. In addition to the airframes’ high cost to produce, the dissolution of the USSR and the subsequent shift to the War on Terror rendered the Raptor less critical at the moment in time. 

While the U.S. was focused on the emerging threats in the Middle East, adversaries like China and Russia were pushed to the side. Obviously, some longer-term foresight may be highlighted the ultimate necessity of maintaining the Raptor fleet and its edge over these nations. 

Specs and Capabilities:

The Raptor’s most recognizable attribute is its small radar cross-section, which allows the fighter to fly without being detected easily by adversarial aircraft. Additionally, the F-22’s twin thrust-vectoring F119 turbofan engines help the jet fly at speeds of Mach 2.0. Weapons-wise, the Raptor can pack a punch. Equipped with an M61A2 20mm Gatling gun, the powerful fighter is a robust jet. The Raptor also has a critical ability to attack surface targets, its air-to-ground configuration allows the airframe to sport two 1,000-pound GBU-32 Joint Direct Attack Munitions internally. The F-22 also features a high degree of sensor fusion and situational awareness on top of its stealth, making the jet a solid dogfighter. 

Despite the Raptor’s formidable capabilities, the Air Force wants to retire the platform and focus on its NGAD program:

The greatest issue leading to the Raptor’s decline is its high cost. Ultimately, not even F-22 airframes were produced to actually replace the F-15 Eagles, so its logistics and supply chain fail to benefit from economy of scale as much as some of the service’s other fighter platforms. Some experts believe that cutting off the Raptor’s production line in 2011 may have been the greatest mistake made by the Air Force. 

Was cutting off the Raptor production line a mistake?

In a piece in the Aviation Geek Club, former Air Force Senior Non-Commissioned Officer (SNCO) explained why limiting the Raptor’s production line may have been “the biggest procurement blunder in the history of the Air Force, the Army Air Force, the Army Air Corps, and even the Balloon Division of the Army Signal Corps.” According to Gregg Gray, “We are buying new 4th generation F-15EX models, the very family of aircraft that the 5th generation F-22 was supposed to replace. They are going to cost $84 million each, about what brand new F-22s would have cost us (If the F-22 production line hadn’t been torn apart years ago).”

F-22 Raptor. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

F-22 Raptor. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

F-22 Raptor. Image: Creative Commons.

A US Air Force (USAF) F/A-22 Raptor, flown by USAF Major (MAJ) David Thole, 422nd Test and Evaluation Squadron (TES), Nellis Air Force Base (AFB), Nevada (NV), heads out to the Nevada Test and Training Range (NTTR) for an operational test mission.

F-22 Raptor. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

F-22 Raptor.

F-22 Raptor. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

F-22 Raptor. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

F-22 Raptor. Image: Creative Commons.

F-22 Raptor as depicted on a Tweet from Lockheed Martin.

Regardless of hindsight, the Air Force is pushing for its remaining 32 Block 20 Raptors to be relegated to museum duty and to the Davis-Monthan Air Force Base’s Aerospace and Maintenance and Regeneration Group “Boneyard” in Arizona. Whatever happens to the F-22 fighters, they will always maintain their legendary status as one of the best fighters to ever take to the skies. 

Maya Carlin, a Senior Editor for 19FortyFive, is an analyst with the Center for Security Policy and a former Anna Sobol Levy Fellow at IDC Herzliya in Israel. She has by-lines in many publications, including The National Interest, Jerusalem Post, and Times of Israel. You can follow her on Twitter: @MayaCarlin

Original News Source – 1945