Unlike the F-35, the F-22 has been operational for years, and has already been used in a number of intercepts of foreign aircraft over international waters. It also trumps the F-35 in performance tests like maximum speed, rate of climb, and maneuverability, delivering figures that largely match or exceed that of the global competition. Like the F-35, the F-22 also comes equipped with a top of the line suite of electronics that allow for a scope of the battlefield experts don’t believe can be matched by our opponents. While it lacks some of the pilot interface technology the F-35 boasts, the F-22 can still muster an over-the-horizon awareness of targets that would leave most jets destroyed before they were even sure they were being engaged.
The only problem is, the U.S. government gave the F-22 program the ax after Lockheed Martin had only fulfilled a bit more than half of the initial order. With 187 completed F-22s, and fewer than 130 combat operational, the U.S. Air Force received only about half of what they believed they needed to ensure America had the best air superiority fighter fleet on the planet. Of course, at the time, American lawmakers believed wars with near-peer adversaries were a thing of the past, relegating the F-22 to the shelf of weapons without a war.
International developments in the years since that 2011 decision have proven those assumptions wrong, of course, as we prepare for potential conflicts with nations fielding their own 5th generation fighters… some, like the J-20, modeled exactly after stolen designs of our own, now cancelled for being too capable (and expensive), F-22.
While some have argued that the United States doesn’t need the F-22 thanks to the capabilities of our existing fleets of fighters and the anticipated capabilities of a fully functioning fleet of F-35s, and there’s certainly merit to some of their points, the F-22 has demonstrated its value as an air support aircraft thanks its speed, payload capacity, and tiny radar signature. Pulling F-22 production out of mothballs would certainly bolster our country’s defenses – but is doing so a sound financial decision?
It would seem probably not. Unlike the F-15, which has continued production for export to allies in nations like Saudi Arabia and Qatar, F-22 production has been stopped since 2011, meaning many of the assets allocated to building these jets have since been redistributed to other efforts or simply left to rot. In order to kick-start production, a significant initial investment would have to be put forth, possibly removing any financial incentive for using an existing platform rather than moving forward with one that is currently under development.
Which brings about another important factor to be considered: despite being one of the most advanced pieces of military hardware on the planet, the F-22 is now already outdated. The F-22 is based on a platform that was under development for decades – meaning a concerted effort to field an all new air superiority fighter, like efforts underway in the PCA program, could produce an aircraft that doesn’t just compete with Russia’s Su-35 or China’s J-20, but leaves them in the dust.
(Feature Photo by Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images)