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BERLIN, (BM) – Only 187 production aircraft of the Lockheed-Martin F-22, by far the best fighter in the world, were built for the US Air Force by 2012. F-22 Raptor must keep the crown jewel in tip-top shape for decades to come. Another series of production seems possible.
Just as the mini-fleet of B-2A stealth bombers is only using in exceptional cases, the US Air Force only sends its F-22A Raptor to the front very sporadically. After the first deliveries, it, therefore, took over ten years until the first combat mission. In the early morning hours of September 23, 2014, the time had come when four F-22A’s of the 1st Fighter Wing, probably stationed in Al Dhafra in the United Arab Emirates, belonged to the first wave of attacks on IS positions in Syria. An IS command center in Ar-Raqqah was hit with a GBU-32 [JDAM / Joint Direct Attack Ammunition weighing 450 kilograms], and the raptors also provided security for B-1B bombers.
Further flights over the combat area followed in the next few days. As of July 2015, there were 204 sorties in which 270 bombs dropped on 60 targets. In November 2017, the F-22 also deployed over Afghanistan for the first time. It was used again via Syria in February 2018.
From air superiority fighter to multi-purpose fighter
The air-to-ground role with precision bombs will continue to be necessary, although the fighter jet is only designing as the ultimate air superiority fighter. The USAF’s first concrete steps to develop a successor to the F-15 Eagle can be traced back to the early 1980s. Among other things, the new pattern should offer extremely low detectability in both the radar and infrared range. New engines were also necessary for this. Orders for corresponding demonstrator programs went to Pratt & Whitney [YF119] and General Electric [YF120] in September 1983.
At the same time, Boeing, General Dynamics, Grumman, McDonnell Douglas, Northrop, and Rockwell received study contracts for an Advanced Tactical Fighter [ATF]. This was followed by invitation to tender in September 1985. The Lockheed Martin / Boeing / General Dynamics YF-22 and the Northrop / Grumman / McDonnell Douglas YF-23 were selected as models for a comparative flight test in October 1986.
Winner in the ATF fighter jet competition
The two YF-22 technology carriers took off on their maiden flights on September 29 and October 30, 1990. They were equipped with YF120 or YF119 engines and completed an extensive flight test program, including guided missiles firing. On April 23, 1991, the Pentagon finally announced the F-22 as the winner of the competition. A development contract for the series version with various refinements was signed on August 2 and comprised nine prototypes. The first was rolled out in Marietta in April 1997 and flew for the first time on September 7 with Paul Metz in the cockpit. The tests did not get underway initially due to technical problems, but in 2004 F-22 flew almost 2000 hours.
Completely ready to use
The delivery of series aircraft began in September 2003. They went to the training squadron in Tyndall and used it for the delayed troop testing. The Raptor’s first operational unit was the 1st Fighter Wing in Langley AFB, which received his F-22A from May 2005. The team reached its preliminary operational readiness in December 2005 and full operational readiness on December 12, 2007.
Horrific costs cause trouble.
Initially, the US Air Force wanted to procure 750 ATF, but the number of units has shrunk over the years given the high costs [unit price at least 143 million dollars]. The dispute over the further production in 2009 even cost the Chief of Staff of the USAF his office. Defense Secretary Robert Gates limited procurement to 187 aircraft (excluding prototypes) on April 6, 2009. The program’s total cost at the end of 2010 was estimated at $ 67 billion [EUR 59 billion].
Will series production start again?
The delivery of the F-22A ended on May 2, 2012, with the official delivery of the “10-4195” at the Marietta, Georgia plant. Lockheed Martin could never really hope for export customers since the export of the Raptor was banned by the US Congress. Recently, however, there have been considerations of equipping the Israeli air force with F-22s – as compensation for the approved export of the F-35s to the United Arab Emirates. In this context, attempts could also be made to tempt the US Air Force to resume production. Of course, the new Raptors would use better systems, especially the F-35, and the cell and stealth coating weak points would also be reduced. Whether this will happen is uncertain.
Lockheed Martin F-22A Raptor specifications
Manufacturer: Lockheed Martin, Marietta, Georgia, USA
Drive: 2 x Pratt & Whitney F119-PW-100
Thrust: 2 x 155 kN with afterburner
Length: 18.92 m
Height: 5.08 m
Span: 13.56 m
Wing area: 78 m²
Empty weight: 19660 kg
Fuel capacity: 8165 kg
Additional tanks: 4 x 2270 l
External loads: 9070 kg
Max. Takeoff weight: 37875 kg
Max. Airspeed: Mach 2.0
Max. Speed without using an afterburner: Mach 1.58
Service ceiling: over 15,000 m
Operational radius: approx. 1110 km
Transfer range: 2975 km
Load factor: + 9 g
The F-22 has a 20mm General Electric M61A2 revolver cannon with 480 rounds. There are internal weapon bays in the bottom of the fuselage and on the side of the air inlet. There are also four external load carriers. Typical weapon combinations are – in air superiority operations: 2 x AIM-9M or AIM-9X Sidewinder and 6 x AIM-120C AMRAAM; in air-to-ground use: 2 x AIM-9M or AIM-9X Sidewinder and 2 x AIM-120C plus 2 x GBU-32 JDAM [450 kg steering bomb] or 8 x SDB [Small Diameter Bomb, 113 kg each] ; with external loads: 2 x AIM-9M Sidewinder and 10 x AIM-120C plus 2 tanks [2270 l each]
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