The F-22 Raptor is considered by many to be the most advanced fighter ever made and the very definition of air superiority. This is great news for Lockheed Martin, as it was their mission to produce a fighter whose capabilities had never been seen before. No other fighter combines the level of stealth, speed, maneuverability, weaponry, and avionics of the Raptor. Its performance, though limited in live combat scenarios, has also proven superior to every other aircraft in any nation’s fleet. Like all things at the top of their game, though, the Raptor has experienced its share of naysayers and controversy, but there is no denying the F-22 is a monster in the skies.
“Fifth Gen” Tech:
The F-22 is the world’s first production Fifth Generation fighter jet. Fifth Generation is more than just an improved fighter. It represents integrating advanced avionics and computer systems, networked sensors, and a low probability of radar intercept into a game-changing air frame. All of these advancements combined make the Fifth Generation fighter suitable for a number of different combat scenarios and overall, an exponentially tougher aircraft to defeat.
All-Aspect Stealth is perhaps the F-22s most impressive attribute, and one of its most defining. What exactly does “all aspect” mean? While it doesn’t mean invisible, it’s about as close as we can get at this point. The aircraft is difficult for enemy aircraft to detect both visually and via radar from all sides, rather than just from the front. It achieves this through Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) Radar technology and a carefully designed airframe that reduces visibility while confusing enemy radar detection. The specific type of AESA radar carried on F-22s is Northrop Grumman’s AN/APG-77, which uses “agile frequency” beams and allows the Raptor to slip in and out of combat quickly and easily.
The F-22 has unmatched supercruise (can fly Mach 1 without using afterburners) capability as well. It is the only aircraft that can do so consistently with a full load of weapons thanks to its set of Pratt and Whitney F119 engines. Supercruise also allows for longer range missile expulsion and more time over potential targets. The F119 engines also give the F-22 maneuverability advantages with tighter high-g turns and stall tactics that won’t actually stall the plane.
As mentioned before, the F-22 was built for air superiority. It is capable of a variety of combat uses but was optimized for certain roles. Its air-to-air combat and surveillance/intelligence gathering tools are arguably what the F-22 does best. In exercises against the F-15 Eagle in air-to-air combat, the F-22 has maintained a kill ratio of over 100:0. It has been used successfully in the Middle East to gather intelligence and provide air support for other aircraft. During these missions the F-22 made good use of technology like Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) and LINK 16. The F-22 did complete an air-to-ground combat mission successfully against ISIS in 2014, proving that it could be highly useful in other areas as well.
While the Raptor has received criticism for being too expensive (estimated cost per aircraft is $334 Million, including R&D) and specialized to be of practical use to the US Air Force, it has proven to be a capable and unmatched leader of the skies. Production of the F-22 fleet ceased long before the original requirement of 700 or so units were complete due to budget cuts, and there are only 183 in the Force today. Maintenance and modernization of the existing fleet, however, is expected to continue for the thirty year life-time of the jets.
See more captivating images of the F-22.
See F-22 Raptor Specifications
|Length: 62 ft 1 in (18.92 m)|
|Height: 16 ft 8 in (5.08 m)|
|Wingspan: 44 ft 6 in (13.56 m)|
|Max Speed: Mach 2.25 (1,500 mph, 2,410 km/h)|
|Ceiling: 65,000 ft (20,000 m)|
|Maximum Takeoff Weight: 83,500 lb (38,000 kg)|
|Range: 460 nmi (529 mi, 852 km) combat radius with internal stores, 1,600 nmi (1,840 mi, 2,960 km) with 2 external fuel tanks mounted underwing.|
|Armament: 1× 20 mm M61A2 Vulcan Cannon
Air Superiority Mission: 8x AMRAAM or Sidewinder missiles in internal load
Ground Support: 2x 1,000 lb JDAM’s or 8x 250 lb bombs internally
Special Purpose: 4 additional underwing hardpoints for fuel pods or extra ordinance, but using these greatly reduces the Raptor’s stealth profile.
|Unit Cost: $150 million (FY 2009)|