(long read but interesting)
F/A-22 Raptor - Stealth, supercruise, firepower
The Lockheed-Martin F/A-22A Raptor is without doubt
the most capable multi-role combat aircraft in production
today, the only design which combines all aspect
wideband stealth capability, supersonic cruise, high
supersonic and subsonic agility and a fully integrated
It also has the dubious distinction of being the most
maligned combat aircraft design since the 1960s TFX -
its critics in the US and elsewhere concocting untruthful
stories about its capabilities, utility and cost.
With the F/A-22A now transitioning from Low Rate Initial
Production to full rate production, and with Initial
Operational Capability planned for this year, the
F/A-22A is on its way.
The Advanced Tactical Fighter Program
Today’s F/A-22A has its origins in the Advanced Tactical
Fighter (ATF) program, conceived during the late
seventies and early eighties in response to intelligence
reports on the then new Soviet Ramenskoye Ram-L and
Ram-K prototypes, which eventually evolved into today’s
Su-27/30 and MiG-29 family of aircraft.
The Sukhoi and MiG fighters were designed around the
aerodynamic, propulsion and tactical ideas which were
central to the US teen-series F-14, F-15, F-16 and
F/A-18A fighters: highly agile ’energy fighters’ capable of
sustaining high instantaneous and sustained transonic
turn rates, with high thrust-to-weight ratios and thus
specific excess power to permit rapid acceleration and
then exceptional climb performance. Close combat
capabilities were matched with Mach 2+ supersonic
dash performance for air defence intercept roles, plus a
large pulse Doppler radar to permit Beyond Visual
Range (BVR) shots against opposing fighters and
incoming cruise missiles.
There is little doubt that the US fighters were almost
unbeatable in comparison with the sixties and seventies
technology Soviet fighters they were built to kill: the
MiG-21 Fishbed, MiG-23/27 Flogger, Su-15/21 Flagon
and widely used earlier Soviet types. This was no longer
true of the Su-27 and MiG-29 - their TsAAGI developed
aerodynamic configuration fused key ideas from the
F-14, F-15 and F-16 designs into a single package,
which in a single design matched all of the best qualities
of the teen-series types. In effect, the MiG-29 and
especially the Su-27 were a half-generation beyond the
US fighters in aerodynamic design. With BVR combat
capabilities matching or exceeding the teen series, the
Soviets were a full generation ahead in close in combat
capabilities through the introduction of the R-73 (AA-11
Archer) Gen 4 missile and the Shchel series helmet
mounted sights. In short, with the Su-27 the Soviets
created a superior fighter.
US Air Force thinking was to develop a successor to the
F-15 family of fighters that would restore a capability
margin over the new Su-27 and MiG-29 series. The new
Advanced Tactical Fighter was to outperform the new
Soviet designs in BVR and close combat, and have the
energy performance advantage to engage and
disengage at will. It was envisaged that the new ATFs
would penetrate high and fast, deep into Soviet held
airspace to defeat PVO and VVS fighters over their own
ground, and thus enable strike aircraft to demolish
Soviet ground-based air defences and defended assets.
The technological enabler for this revolutionary change
in energy performance was the supercooled turbine,
developed by the US Air Force and contractors in a long
running program. A turbofan with a supercooled turbine
could sustain much higher inlet gas temperatures,
permitting the engine to develop much higher dry thrust
at altitude and thus sustain Mach 1.4+ speeds without
using the thirsty afterburner. Supersonic cruise or
"Supercruise" would thus permit the ATF to operate in
the teen/teenski series fighters’ afterburning
performance envelope in dry thrust alone, providing not
only unprecedented supersonic persistence, but also
exceptional supersonic and subsonic agility.
The second key technology to find its way into the ATF
was stealth, with the success of the Have Blue and
F-117A demonstrating its utility. With stealth, the ATF
could have an unbeatable advantage in BVR combat,
and F-117A-like survivability against surface to air
The third key technology to be introduced into the ATF
was an integrated software-centric digital avionic suite,
in which all sensor and system processing was
concentrated in a redundant package of
The ATF’s sensor suite was to be dominated by a large
active phased array radar, built for low antenna radar
signature, and with the agility and processing power to
provide Low Probability of Intercept modes.
The RFP was issued in 1986. The resulting
Lockheed/Boeing/General Dynamics YF-22A and
Northrop/McDonnell-Douglas YF-23A demonstra-tors
embodied these key design concepts.
Early in 1991, the more conservative YF-22A was
selected over the more radical (and arguably riskier)
YF-23A, resulting in today’s F/A-22A.
Early planning envisaged up to 750 ATFs being built, as
one-for-one replacements for the expected fleet of
F-15A and F-15C fighters.
The year the F-22A development program was launched
was the year in which the Soviet Union collapsed, and
the year in which the F-117A demolished the nucleus of
Saddam’s air defence system.
While the production F-22A design was being crafted,
exploiting the conceptual design of the YF-22A, much
thought was being invested in the changing strategic
environment. Clearly an F-22A designed for NATO
theatre air superiority alone would be too narrowly
specialised for a post Cold War world, one in which a
post Soviet Russia was busily proliferating the Su-27
and S-300PMU and S-300V surface to air missile
systems. The new globalised world was going to be a
’rainbow threat’ environment, with evolved variants of
top tier Soviet systems available globally. Indeed, the
world we see today is exactly this, with Asian operators
expected to exceed total numbers of Russian operated
Su-27 and S-300 series weapon systems, and cruise
missiles a high volume product.
By the mid 1990s the F-22A was firmly reoriented as a
multirole fighter, intended to not only demolish opposing
fighter assets and supporting AWACS, but also hunt
mobile and semimobile S-300 batteries, supporting
command centres and other critical surface targets. The
success and the limitations of the F-117A Nighthawk
were clearly apparent in 1991, and the supercruising
high altitude F-22A was clearly the only aircraft that
could go where it was becoming unsafe to send an
There can be no doubt that the Raptor will remain
unmatched in capabilities and combined
stealth/aerodynamic performance for decades to come.
The number of new technologies used in its design
compares only to the radical break seen in the 1960s
TFX program, and only comparable investment in
developing analogous technologies can produce an
equivalent design in the EU or Russia. The Raptor
seems destined to remain in a league of its own for
decades to come.
Evolving the Raptor
Much of the public literature on the Raptor reflects the
baseline configuration, largely frozen during the late
1990s to comply with congressional cost caps on the
development program. Unfortunately, many observers
have not bothered to explore more recent disclosures
detailing ongoing evolution of the design.
The ability of the F-22A to penetrate all conceivable air
defences unchallenged led to a progressive role shift
toward strike, especially strike against high value targets
and surface-based air defences. This parallels the
evolution of the earlier F-15 into strike roles with the
F-15E ’Strike Eagle’. Longer term, the F-22A was
expected to replace the F-117A in its penetration role.
By late 2002 it was clear that the F-22A was more the
multirole fighter in future tasking than the air superiority
fighter it was conceived to be. As a result, in September
2002 Chief of Staff General John P. Jumper announced
the redesignation of the F-22A as the F/A-22A.
The baseline weapons payload of the F/A-22A in air
superiority roles comprises a pair of AIM-9X WVR AAMs
in the side bays, and six AIM-120C variant BVR missiles
in the main fuselage bays. For ’unstealthy’ air defence
roles such as bomber and cruise missile intercept, an
additional four AIM-120 could be carried on external
pylons with a pair of external tanks. The pylons are all
rated to 5,000 lb and can be jettisoned to regain full
The Initial Operational Capability configuration, to be
fielded this year, will be multirole, with the option of four
AMRAAMs being replaced by GBU-32 JDAMs. This
provides an analogous deep-strike capability to the
F-117A, but is more survivable.
Current planning envisages the introduction of the
GBU-39/40 Small Diameter Bomb in the Block 20
aircraft by 2007, together with high resolution SAR radar
modes, improved radar ECCM, two way voice and data
MIDS/Link-16 capability, improved crew station
software, and improved electronic countermeasures.
The Block 20 configuration is the baseline for the Global
Strike Task Force (GSTF) fleet, and will include JSF
common radar modules, a dedicated high-speed radar
processor, and COTS technology CIP processors.
The Block 30 configuration, planned for 2008-2011,
extends the growth seen in the Block 20. Side-looking
radar arrays are envisaged to provide a significant ISR
capability in the aircraft along with enhancements to
provide full air defence suppression (Wild Weasel) and
time-critical target engagement capabilities. A Satcom
terminal will be added to provide continuous network
connectivity during deep-strike profiles.
The post-2011 Block 40 aircraft is intended to be the
definitive Global Strike configuration, including
incremental enhancements to Block 30 additions, to
provide full sensor networking, range enhancements,
highly integrated ISR capabilities, and a Helmet
Mounted Display similar to the JSF. Longer term
planning for post Block 40 envisages an Electronic
Attack variant, essentially replacing the lost EF-111A
Raven. A stealthy stores pod for JDAM and SDB is also
in development to enable carriage on external pylons.
As a strike aircraft the F/A-22A will have similar internal
payloads to the JSF, but will be vastly more survivable
due to better stealth to evade air defence missile
batteries, plus better speed/altitude performance, more
defensive internally carried air-air missiles and the ability
to kill opposing fighters with no difficulty. The spiral
development program for strike capabilities is
incremental, and primarily involves software and
integration of networking equipment and new weapons.
As a result, it is an affordable proposition. The Block 20
enhancements were covered within the original 2004
Concurrent with F/A-22A evolution, the FB-22A is being
explored as a parallel strike platform for the US Air
Force. The most recent reports indicate that the
configuration of the FB-22A has shifted from a pure
delta design, to a configuration similar to the F/A-22A
with an enlarged wing, enlarged weapon bays, and
stretched forward fuselage accommodating a second
crew station. The F119-PW-100 engine would be
enhanced to permit long-duration supercruise on
deep-strike profiles, with specific optimisations in a
number of areas for this purpose.
Raptor vs the PacRim
Since 1991, the world strategic environment has
changed dramatically. While most media and political
attention remains focused on the War on Terror in the
low-tech Islamic world, the larger long-term strategic
issue is the ongoing arms race in the Asia-Pacific-Indian
region. Within the PacRim itself, the growth of China as
a regional military and economic superpower is the
single greatest strategic change seen since the fall of
the Soviet Union.
By 2015 we can expect to see China become the largest
single operator of late-generation Sukhoi Su-27/30
derivative fighters globally, flown in a high-low mix with
indigenous Lavi-like Chengdu J-10 fighters. By then, the
PLA-AF will be operating A-50 AWACS and Il-78MKK
Midas aerial refuelling tankers. New-build Badgers,
armed with indigenous and likely Russian-derived cruise
missiles, will replace much of the legacy fleet.
If the converging Russian push to export Backfires and
Bears meets with the PLA-AF leadership’s ambitions to
operate these aircraft, China could well end up with a
fleet of up to 40 upgraded Tu-22M3 Backfires along with
a regiment or more of late build Tu-95MS Bears, all
armed with cruise missiles and the latter likely to be
mass produced in China.
In strategic terms, the PacRim will be faced with a
technologically evolved derivative of the very same
capability package that terrified NATO planners during
the last half decade of the Cold War. With Backfires
providing a reach of circa-2,500 NMI, and Bears 4,000
NMI armed with cruise missiles, there are no nations in
the PacRim outside the footprint of the PLA-AF’s
For the US, with its principal conventional deterrent
capabilities in the PacRim sited at Andersen AFB in
Guam, Kadena and Misawa in Japan, and naval CVBGs
based in Japan and US PacRim ports, China’s growing
capabilities will present a genuine strategic challenge.
Guam and Kadena fall under the footprint of the
Backfire, or refuelled Sukhoi fighters. Naval CVBGs,
having lost the A-6E, F-14 and dedicated aerial
refuelling tankers, are largely limited in reach without US
Air Force tanker support, and by 2015 equipped mostly
with the limited F/A-18E/F.
The F/A-22A is the strategically pivotal asset for the US
in the PacRim, providing unmatched capability in
several areas: the air superiority capability to balance
Chinese Flanker numbers, the defence suppression
capability to defeat Chinese S-300/400 missile systems,
the penetration capability to shut down PLA-AF and
PLA-N airfields, and the cruise missile engagement
capability to blunt any pre-emptive or sustained strike
campaign conducted by a future PLA-AF strike force.
The US deterrent posture in the PacRim region will
hinge mostly on available numbers of F/A-22As in this
For Australia, the F/A-22A continues to represent the
single best choice as a replacement new build combat
aircraft for the RAAF, as it is the only type which will be
strategically credible in the post 2015 PacRim
so when are they going to get rid of their F111's?
I got half a chub reading that article.
The F-22 is one sexy aircraft. I feel sorry
for the Chinese pilots who will not get to
see it in combat as they'll only see the
Fat chance aussie. I love the aussies, but there is no way in hell you are getting raptors.
Doubt it, just too damned expensive.
Typhoon is my guess for the next Aussie airplane, maybe Rafale as the next option, followed by Gripen.
More likely F-35 JSF.
Looks like it is sucking to be a pilot in the navy these days.
Right. The Aussies picked the F-18 over the other designs. Since the F-35 is designed to replacethe F-18A/C, it would seem the logical replacement.
IIRC the date is 2007
Our F/A 18s are being replaced by F35s. We have been part of the F35 project thingy for a LONG time. We prob could get F22s but not enough money
At least the Ozzies are concerned about the PLA. I wish we had the same sense of urgency here.
I thought the superbug was the most maligned aircraft in history.
Avro Arrow anyone?
Maybe the P39?
F-35 = master of none
The F-35s success will be seen as an export fighter.
This has the potential to be the largest military export item in history, much along the lines of the F-16. The countries targeted aren't financially capable of buying dedicated, top-of- the-line aircraft. Instead, they're going to buy a top-of- the-line multi-role aircraft that they can afford.
With the F-22 also in our inventory, I don't think the F-35 will be found lacking in its chosen role(s).
One of it's roles is to replace the "aging" A-10 fleet. As a Gunner on rescue birds I'd like to see how they think this thing can replace the A-10 in the Sandy role. They try to get F-16's to play Sandy but those bitches won't come down below 10 grand. But, what do I know in the grand scheme of things?
I doubt the Aussie government can afford many F-22's, although I wouldn't mind seeing them get a good aircraft.
Their best bet probably would be to buy a decent quantity of F-35's. For a better air superiority bird, perhaps they can add a few Typhoons as well. But with the cost of the Typhoon going up and up and up, I'm not sure that the Raptor is really that much more expensive, all things considered.
As for the retiring of their F-111's, they should look at the F-15E to replace those since McBoeing still has the production line open.
We are getting about 80 F35s IIRC
Our AF is too small to have specialised aircraft so we have to make do with jack of all trades
Our F111s are costing us an arm and a leg to maintain since they are so old and there arent that many parts.