The US Air Force is considering getting rid of the amazing F-22

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Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor is one of the most advanced fighter planes in the world. It is a twin-engine, all-weather stealth tactical fighter aircraft with incredible camouflage, weapons systems, and flight characteristics. It is a real marvel of engineering, but its service might be cut short.

F-22 Raptor was carefully designed to be difficult to spot using radars, infrared devices or visual clues. Image credit: US Air Force via Wikimedia

The F-22 program faced obstacles from the very beginning. Raptor performed its maiden flight in 1997 and entered service with the United States Air Force in 2005. It was initially planned to build 750 of these amazing machines, but the program was cut short in 2009.

At that time, the F-22 Raptor proved to be way too expensive, especially since the exports of its technology were banned. Furthermore, at the time American military engagements didn’t seem to require air-to-air combat capabilities that are the strong point of the F-22. Finally, the F-35 proved to be a way more affordable, more versatile, and more reasonable fighter plane for the 21st century.

In 2009 the F-22 program was limited to 187 operational aircraft. At the moment, the US Air Force has 185 F-22 Raptors, but only 123 of them are combat-ready. Nevertheless, these planes are pretty young, since they were built in the period of 1996-2011. They are extremely modern and highly capable, especially compared to the other twin-engine fighter jet that the US forces are operating – F-15 is a way older design.

Now it’s been reported that the US Air Force is considering retiring F-22’s in favour of a new fighter jet. The F-22 is notoriously expensive to maintain and use, which is why the F-35 is so much more successful while being less capable. The F-22 was created in the previous era, when defense challenges were different. This is why the NGAD plane that will ultimately replace it will be different. It will feature the latest stealth technologies, but it will be able to operate over longer distances.

Whatever the NGAD project is hiding is likely based on the F-22 design lessons. The first prototype was developed, built, and flown in 2020 – this ridiculously short time shows that it is not an entirely new design. However, the US Air Force knows that it will be hugely expensive, which is why some F-22s need to go.

F-35 and F-22 flying together. Image credit: 1st Lt. Sam Eckholm via Wikimedia

The Air Force wants to retire 33 oldest F-22s, which are slightly different and would require an upgrade to a newer spec. That upgrade would cost 50 million dollars per plane. The US Air Force would rather funnel that money into the NGAD programme and develop the new jet fighter sooner. The problem is that the NGAD is not likely to enter service before 2030, so it needs to be decided whether the US wants to retire its F-22s before the direct replacement arrives.

Now this decision will be discussed in the political arena – Congress will have to think about how to play the cards of F-22 and NGAD. Regardless, the F-22 Raptor becomes an easy target to be called a failure just because of how short its service is going to be. It is an engineering marvel, but the F-35 is simply cheaper and more versatile. Having said that, there are rumours that the NGAD plane is going to cost 200-300 million dollars a piece, while a single F-35  costs about $70 million.


Sources:, Wikipedia.


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