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F-22 Raptor Myths

Cost – The F-22 Raptor is much more expensive to procure per unit than the F-35 Lightning II In fact, the flyaway cost of an F-22 is presently priced lower ($141.5 million per unit vs. $236 million for the F-35 in 2009) due to the maturity of the program, and that of the Raptor Industry Team production/supply chains.1 Even when the Lightning transitions into full-scale production (and to a fixed price contract status) in 2014, it is estimated that the F-35 will still cost about $113 million, roughly 80 percent of the present flyaway cost of an F-22.2 Lest critics assail the costs of the F-35 program, for comparison’s sake, a Navy buy of nine FA-18E/F Super Hornets in FY2010 was priced at more than $118 million per aircraft, and an F-15E Strike Eagle buy in FY06 came to more than $108 million per unit. Internationally, a Eurofighter Typhoon today is estimated to cost well over $100 million.

Cold War Mission – The F-22 Raptor is the product of an obsolete Cold War-era mission requirement that has no relevance in the post-9/11 military environment – The mission of gaining aerial access through air superiority/air supremacy operations dates back to World War I, and remains one of the core airpower missions, whatever the era. The first air-to-air kills occurred less than a dozen years after the Wright brothers’ first flights, and the achievement of air supremacy has never stopped being the first requirement for air operations in the field. That no U.S. air-to-air kills have been scored since 1999 is more a function of the wars and enemies that the U.S. has fought since then, and not the threat systems and pilots that America will likely face in any near-term future conflict. In fact, the formal F-22 requirement has grown and evolved into roles and missions never anticipated when the Raptor was originally envisioned. Beyond the basic air-to-air mission, the Raptor now has to support ground attack, Destruction of Enemy Air Defenses (DEAD), battle management, and Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) roles.3

F-22 Raptor

The F-22 Raptor has evolved from its original mission of being a air superiority/air supremacy fighter. U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Jeremy Lock

 

F-22 Raptor vs. F-35 Lightning II Capabilities – Critics contend that the F-35 is as capable as the F-22 in the air supremacy mission, and can conduct it along with strike operations more cheaply than a mixed Raptor/Lightning force. While the Lightning will be stealthy by comparison to 4th generation strike fighters, the F-35’s various signatures are all greater than those of the F-22, limiting its ability to operate in and around defended enemy airspace by comparison to the Raptor. In addition, the emphasis on strike warfare in the design of the Lightning limits the F-35 to carrying a maximum of four (4) AIM-120 air-to-air missiles (AAMs) and a gun (internal in the F-35A only) with 180 rounds. By comparison, the F-22 can carry up to six (6) AIM-120s (with a 40 percent greater employment range), along with a pair of AIM-9 Sidewinders and a gun with 480 rounds. Finally, the F-35 lacks many of the F-22’s key kinematic capabilities, including supersonic cruise speed (supercruise at Mach 1.5+ without use of afterburners) and extreme high-altitude operating ceiling (50,000 feet +).4 This is not to denigratethe Lightning II, which is far superior to existing and planned 4th Generation aircraft, but was intended from the outset to be primarily a strike aircraft and the “low” element of a “high-low mix” of F-22s and F-35s.

Stealth/Speed/Altitude – The F-22 Raptor’s combination of speed, stealth, and high altitude capability is both ineffective against enemy defenses, and tactically insignificant – The decision of the Air Force and the F-22 industry team to use a new generation of stealth technology, supercruise speed, and high altitude was based upon more than two decades of operational experience with the “Blackbird” family of manned reconnaissance aircraft and D-21-series unmanned drones. Beginning with the A-12 (a single-seat CIA-developed version), and continuing with the SR-71 and D-21, the combination has been combat proven to provide maximum protection against ground-based defenses and manned fighters. Not one of the Blackbirds was ever shot down, despite engagement by hundreds of Surface-to-Air missiles (SAMs) and manned fighters over denied/hostile airspace.5

F-22 Raptor

The F-22 Raptor’s combination of stealth technology, supercruise speed, and high altitude capability will make it a formidable U.S. Air Force weapon. U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Daniel Hughes

The F-22 Raptor is useful only against aerial targets, and has no weapons useful against ground targets – While the original ATF (Advanced Tactical Fighter) requirement from the 1980s reflected a primary air-to-air focus, the Raptor’s roles and missions have evolved significantly during the F-22’s development. In particular, the growth of so-called “double digit” Russian SAMs (the S-300/400 family) and “Generation 4.5” fighter aircraft (Su-35 Flanker, MiG-35 Fulcrum, Dassault Rafale, and Eurofighter) has created a need for an aircraft able to secure aerial access against both air and ground threats, the present primary mission of the F-22A. Able to use both onboard and offboard sensors to discreetly locate threat aircraft and SAMs, the F-22 can carry a mix of AAMs and GPS-guided bombs to prosecute multiple targets in real time as they are encountered.6

The F-22 Raptor lacks a secure, high-speed data link capable of sharing the data it collects from offboard sensors and platforms, or with other systems across the battlespace – The F-22 presently has several options for sharing of data with Raptors and other offboard platforms. These include the secure/Low Probability of Intercept (LPI) Intra-Flight Data Link for data exchanges between F-22s, and Raptors can also receive data streams from offboard sensors aboard aircraft like the E-3 Sentry, E-8 Joint STARS, and RC-135 Rivet Joint through a Joint Tactical Data System receiver. In addition, recent tests using the F-22’s APG-77 Active Electronically Steered Array radar as a high capacity, two-way data link with satellites and other aircraft have proven promising. Also under development is an F-22 version of the Multifunction Advanced Data Link (MADL) terminal, which will provide secure/LPI data exchanges with MADL-equipped F-35 Lightning II and B-2A Spirit aircraft, other legacy USAF platforms, and joint/allied ground, air, and naval systems.7

F-22 Raptor

The F-22 Raptor is a vastly superior fighter when compared to the venerable F-15. U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Ben Bloker

 

No Better Than What We Already Have – The Raptor is a vastly superior fighter aircraft to anything else in the Air Force inventory or under development in any other air force in the world. Compared with the legacy F-15C/D, the F-22A has twice the cruise speed, a radar signature on the order of the B-2A Spirit, and a vastly superior radar/sensor suite. Also, the average fleet age of F-15 Eagles averages 26 years, while the F-22 force has an average age of only 2 years. Finally, the F-15 force is regularly suffering structural problems and fatigue failures, which are increasing operations and maintenance costs and causing early retirement of Eagle airframes. This means that something will have to be procured to make up for the shortcomings in numbers of F-15s, and presently the only replacement for the Eagle is the F-22A Raptor.8

 

References

  1. The published flyaway cost for the Lot 7 run of 20 F-22A aircraft ordered in 2007 as part of the present multi-year procurement can be found at: http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/systems/aircraft/f-22-cost.htm.
  2. The F-35 Cost data is drawn from Table 3 on Page 15 of GAO Publication GAO-09-711T, entitled JOINT STRIKE FIGHTER: Strong Risk Management Essential as Program Enters Most Challenging Phase, issued on May 20th, 2009. The publication can be accessed and downloaded at: http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d09711t.pdf.
  3. The evolution of the Advanced Tactical Fighter requirement of the 1980s into the present-day F-22A Raptor is elegantly described in: Advanced Tactical Fighter to F-22 Raptor: Origins of the 21st Century Air Dominance Fighter by David C. Aronstein, Michael J. Hirschberg, and Albert C. Piccirillo, American Institute of Aeronautics & Astronautics, Arlington, VA, 1998.
  4. The relative qualities, weapons loads, and other features of the F-22A and F-35A are described in detail in the CBO study, ALTERNATIVES FOR MODERNIZING U.S. FIGHTER FORCES, issued on May 13th, 2009. It can be accessed and downloaded at: http://www.cbo.gov/ftpdocs/101xx/doc10113/05-13-FighterForces.pdf.
  5. See: Advanced Tactical Fighter to F-22 Raptor: Origins of the 21st Century Air Dominance Fighter by David C. Aronstein, Michael J. Hirschberg, and Albert C. Piccirillo, American Institute of Aeronautics & Astronautics, Arlington, VA, 1998.
  6. See: ALTERNATIVES FOR MODERNIZING U.S. FIGHTER FORCES, issued on May 13th, 2009. It can be accessed and downloaded at: http://www.cbo.gov/ftpdocs/101xx/doc10113/05-13-FighterForces.pdf.
  7. Probably the best short discussion of current data link systems and alternatives for the Raptor are described in the article: F-22 and F-35 Suffer From Network Gaps by Bill Sweetman, Aviation Week and Space Technology, December 11th, 2007. Available at: http://www.aviationweek.com/aw/generic/story_generic.jsp?channel=dti&id=news/DTINETS.xml&headline=F-22 and F-35 Suffer From Network Gaps
  8. Drawn from an interview by John D. Gresham with Lt. Gen. David Deptula, USAF at his office in the Pentagon in August 2008.

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John D. Gresham lives in Fairfax, Va. He is an author, researcher, game designer, photographer,...