F-22 Raptor: Why it might be America’s best fighter jet

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The F-22 Raptor made headlines last month after shooting down multiple unidentified “objects” over Canada, Lake Huron, and Alaska. Largely touted as America’s best fighter, the airframe also scored its first kill on February 4, when it shot down a Chinese high-altitude surveillance balloon off the coast of South Carolina.

While the Raptor’s kill rate is still technically zero (the balloon is hardly a fair match), the highly formidable airframe should not be doubted. For nearly 25 years, the F-22 has really embodied the “definition of air dominance.”

An Overview of the F-22 Platform

Created as a result of the U.S. Air Force’s Advanced Tactical Fighter (ATF) program in the early 1980s, the Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor was crafted to combine the abilities of an air superiority fighter with ground attack, signal intelligence, and electronic warfare capabilities. During the height of the Cold War new aerial threats were emerging, which pushed the USAF’s momentum to achieve an air superiority fighter further.

The Soviet Union was developing its Sukhoi Su-27 “Flanker” and Mikoyan MiG-29 “Fulcrum” fighters to counter the American-made F-15 Eagle and F-16 Fighting Falcon platforms. China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) was also moving forward with improved jet designs at this time. At this point, the USAF was concerned that its existing fleet of fighters could operate at a “mission deficiency” in the future since America’s Russian and Chinese adversaries were advancing their own platforms.

Of All the Raptor’s Capabilities, its Invisibility Sets It Over the Edge

The most prominent feature the Raptor possesses is perhaps its small radar cross-section, making it five-to-ten times less observable than the F-35 Lightning II. An actual incident involving a Raptor was detailed in a Sandboxx News report.

During this 2013 incident, a Raptor was flying alongside an American MQ-1 drone, and “The F-22 pilot, Lt. Col. Kevin ‘Showtime’ Sutterfield, was able to take his F-22 right up to one of the Iranian fighters entirely undetected, fly below the offending jet to inspect its weapons load, and then pull up alongside the Phantom to tell him, ‘You really ought to go home.’ The panicked Iranian pilot, along with his wingman, suddenly realizing they were in the presence of an aircraft full generations ahead of theirs in capability, both bugged out despite their numbers advantage.”

The Raptor is powered by two Pratt & Whitney F119-PW-100 turbofan engines that can produce a total thrust of around 70,000 pounds. Its engines’ thrust vectoring capabilities allow the fighter to outperform any other airframe in a dogfight. Weapons-wise, the Raptor can pack a punch.

The jet’s larger frame allows for three internal weapons bays. In a stealth configuration, the Raptor can pack two Aim-9 Sidewinder air-to-air missiles and six Aim-120 AMRAAM radar-guided air-to-air missiles in its side weapons bay at the same time, while carrying 2 AIM-120 AMRAAM and two GBU-32 JDAM bombs in its center weapons bay. While the airframe’s potential weapons storage is impressive, the weight of additional munitions impacts how stealth it is.

The Air Force sought to retire its older-model F-22 airframes over the summer, claiming the expensive upkeep was not worth it. However, democrats and republicans alike on the House Armed Services Committee collaborated in an effort to save the Raptors.

Maintaining these formidable airframes in the USAF’s arsenal will be paramount if a conflict involving China’s J-20 or Russia’s Su-57 fighters erupts.

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