With China and Russia deploying their own fifth-generation fighter planes, there seems to be an apparent need for an increased production of F-22s to counter these high-tech threats. This would potentially require reopening long-dormant production lines.
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At a glance, the argument holds merit and even spurred quite a bit of public discussion a couple of years ago. The reality, however, reveals a different, more challenging scenario.
A whopping $74 billion has been spent over the life of the F-22, a truly costly expenditure. The reason the United States halted its production in 2011 was a strategic one – it was thought that a high-speed, agile interceptor designed for dogfighting held little value in the context of the war on terror.
Afghanistan and Iraq operations are predominantly wrapped up now, save for the ongoing battle against remaining ISIS elements, and this largely falls into the domain of special forces.
The current geopolitical landscape, however, might necessitate a reevaluation of this strategy. The increasing likelihood of conflicts with formidable powers like Russia and China, not to mention wildcard nations such as Iran and North Korea, may place a renewed importance on aircraft adept at close-quarters combat.
Despite its impressive capabilities, the F-22 Raptor is not without its fair share of difficulties. This high-performance fighter jet requires a substantial pre-flight checklist to be conducted. There’s a certain infamous crash incident, dating back years, that the Air Force tends to avoid discussing.
Concerns over the Raptor’s reliability have also been raised. Notably, the aircraft’s oxygen systems have been plagued by issues, and there was an instance where the landing gear failed. Moreover, the aircraft’s stealth coating frequently demands extensive maintenance.
There’s also a perspective suggesting the whole project may have been overly ambitious and optimistic. Initially, the Air Force intended to acquire 750 F-22s. However, it ended up purchasing merely 186 of these fighter jets. Presently, estimates suggest that less than a hundred are typically airborne at any given moment.
Power and experience
Despite facing a fair share of challenges, the stealth fighter unquestionably boasts performance data that impressively supports its advocates.
With an impressive top speed of MACH 2, an operational ceiling of 50,000 feet, and a remarkable 1,841-mile range without requiring refueling, the allure of the F-22 is undoubtedly compelling.
Beyond establishing air dominance, the stealth fighter also serves a critical role in eliminating ground-based threats.
Technological accessibility ensures that the latest updates on maintenance information are a mere computer connection away. Moreover, the stealth fighter continues to improve its arsenal with additions like cutting-edge beyond-visual-range missiles. Enhanced communication features, such as datalinks, enable compatibility with other aircraft like the F-35. Its advanced synthetic aperture radar contributes to the superior situational awareness of the F-22.
Furthermore, the stealth fighter’s prowess is underscored by its impeccable track record. In simulation after simulation, the F-22 reigns supreme in the skies, neutralizing every threat within its reach. Its exceptional stealth capabilities have even allowed it to evade detection from an Iranian fighter jet.
New F-22 production
It appears that increased production of F-22s may hinge on additional funding from Congress, a fact that has grown increasingly clear.
In 2017, the Air Force conducted a study to examine the practicality of manufacturing more F-22s, identifying the key obstacles to this goal. The most striking barrier was the exorbitant cost. Without a dedicated production line in place, it would cost a staggering $50 billion to build an additional 194 units, translating to over $200 million per new aircraft. Astonishingly, merely setting up the production line calls for a $10 billion investment.
Monetary concerns aside, the 2017 report also suggests that the prospect of restarting an F-22 line may face even greater hurdles:
“A retired Air Force official who had firsthand knowledge of the Force’s attempt to repair two damaged Raptors revealed that they were met with major challenges in acquiring the correct tools. In one instance, Air Force technicians needed to craft a specific component from scratch to replace a severely damaged part on one of the F-22s. The tooling and instructions supposedly stored in the Conex boxes needed for this task were assumed to be available, but to their immense surprise and frustration, the container was empty. This frustrating scenario took place several times, and as per the official’s last check, the issue was yet to be rectified. The bottom line is that even with a potential desire to restart the production, it may not be practically possible without committing a massive additional investment in time and resources.”
No More F-22s
Due to the myriad factors outlined above, it seems implausible that the Air Force would kick-start the production of the Raptor again. The sheer cost and impracticality associated with the process make it highly unlikely. Moreover, the Air Force’s ongoing pursuit to bring forth a 6th generation fighter demands significant time and resources. Hence, it’s safe to say that the F-22 fleet will probably remain limited to the existing number of units.
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