F-35 vs. F-22: rare dogfight near China unveils next-gen tactics

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On May 16, two U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptors joined South Korean F-35As in a special dogfighting exercise over the Korean Peninsula. This exercise, the first of its kind between these advanced fighter jets, focused on close-quarter air combat. It aimed to test and enhance the skills of both air forces, as reported by South Korea’s Maeil Business Newspaper. 

Photo credit: Pixabay

The Republic of Korea Air Force [ROKAF] stated that all four stealth fighters took turns in offensive and defensive roles during the simulated battles. These exercises helped pilots learn the latest tactics and improve their skills in close-range combat. 

This joint exercise happened after several U.S. Air Force F-22s arrived at Gunsan Air Base on May 13, as noted by the U.S. Department of Defense. The F-22s from the 19th and 199th fighter squadrons highlight the importance of their mission. The Department of Defense stated, “The Raptor’s visit to Korea shows the U.S. Pacific Air Forces’ ability to deploy power at key points to strengthen command and control in the Indo-Pacific region.”

Photo credit: Pixabay

Raptors in future exercises

The F-22s hosted by the 8th Fighter Wing at Kunsan Air Base will receive full maintenance and be ready for deployment next week. It’s not clear yet if the Raptors will join more joint drills during South Korea’s  biennial training starting on May 17. This training will feature a mix of South Korea’s F-35As, F-15Ks, F-16s, and FA-50s. 

This is the F-22s’ first public return to Korea since the Seoul International Aerospace and Defense Industry Exhibition [ADEX] last October. The 8th Fighter Wing stated that the F-22s would be key in testing Agile Combat Employment [ACE] abilities in the Indo-Pacific. 

Photo by Amber Arnold / State Journal

ACE is crucial in the shift toward competing with great powers like China. It involves small teams of airmen and aircraft working from simple, remote bases, allowing quick movement and deployment. The U.S. Air Force has increased ACE training, with F-22s being essential to this plan.

F-35 vs F-22

The F-35 and F-22 are known as fifth-generation fighters. They are famous for their stealth and advanced technology, making them some of the best jets in the world. Recently, the South Korean Air Force conducted an exercise but did not share the results publicly, which is common practice. They usually discuss outcomes privately during debriefings. 

Photo by Aijaz Rahi / AP

The F-35 Lightning II is a single-seat, single-engine jet that is great for ground attacks and air defense. On the other hand, the F-22 Raptor, which is also a single-seat jet but with twin engines, is built for air superiority. Despite being older, the F-22 is still very important. It’s going to be replaced by the Next-Generation Air Dominance Fighter [NGAD]. Unlike the F-22, which can’t be sold to other countries, the F-35 is very popular in the international market, with many partners and buyers. 

The widespread use of the F-35 among U.S. allies showcases its advanced abilities compared to older fighter jets. However many air forces haven’t fully tested the F-35 in real combat situations. The F-22, however, remains a strong competitor to the F-35. In 2018, two U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptors and two Royal Norwegian Air Force F-35s participated in a one-day training exercise. A Norwegian F-35 pilot noted that training with F-22s provided unique opportunities because F-35s often “overpower” non-stealth aircraft.

F-35 and F-22 are different

Photo credit: Wikipedia

The F-35 wasn’t designed to compete with the F-22 in air superiority. The F-22 is a high-end air superiority fighter, while the F-35 focuses more on air-to-ground strikes but can defend itself if needed. Dr. Brent M. Eastwood, an expert in emerging threats and a former U.S. Army Infantry officer, highlighted the F-22’s speed and maneuverability in an interview with National Interest. 

“The F-22 is faster than the F-35 – MACH 2.2 compared to the F-35’s MACH 1.6. The F-22 is 30 percent heavier but might be more maneuverable. Its Pratt & Whitney F119 engines produce more thrust [70,000 pounds] than the F-35’s single Pratt & Whitney F-135 engine. The F119 engine’s thrust vectoring could give the Raptor an advantage in aerial combat due to a higher thrust-to-weight ratio,” Eastwood explained. 

Despite these differences, the F-35 is designed for modern warfare. David Berke, a retired Marine Corps officer and experienced pilot of both the F-22 and F-35, sees the F-35 as a game-changer. He emphasized its role as a sensor in the battlespace and as a “quarterback” for other systems. The F-35 offers unmatched decision-making capabilities, both in the air and on the ground. 

Photo credit: Reddit

The F-35, a powerful stealth aircraft, operates where enemies do not expect it. Its anti-access aerial denial features allow it to excel in hostile environments. This versatility and advanced technology highlight its importance in the U.S. military and among its allies.

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