The F-22 is the most capable, most versatile, most survivable, and most lethal fighterplane ever devised or flown. It also has the dubious distinction of being the most maligned combat aircraft in history, with its ignorant detractors cooking up untrue stories about it or using rare accidents or systems malfunctions – which happen with every type of military aircraft from time to time – to smear it.
Some, such as extremely leftist, pro-weak-defense propagandists Winslow Wheeler and Pierre Sprey of the Center for Defense Misinformation, claim that the recent hypoxia (lack of oxygen) symptoms experienced by pilots are, supposedly, proof that the F-22 is crappy and should be trashed. But there is a simple solution – installing a better Onboard Oxygen Generation System (OBOGS) – and that is already underway. The House Appropriations Committee has passed a bill appropriating money to do just that. Problem solved.
Moreover, it may be possible that the F-22’s performance envelope – how high and how fast it can fly – is beyond the limits of what human organisms can tolerate.
Others criticize the F-22 for its cost. But the F-22 actually costs only 150 mn dollars per copy. It was terminated in favor of the F-35, which was supposed to be more versatile and cheaper.Yet, it is anything but. To be sure, it’s a very capable plane, but it does not perform as well as the F-22, whether in Air to Air or Air to Ground combat, and all of its variants are much more expensive than the F-22. The cheapest, the F-35A, comes at 197 mn dollars per copy.
Yet other ignorant critics, such as Sen. John McCain (RINO-AZ), who believes that the only wars the US will ever will be against insurgencies and primitive countries unable to contest control of the air, claim that the F-22 “has no purpose”. Yet, they’re totally wrong. The F-22 has a clear purpose: to ensure American air dominance over the newest Russian and Chinese aircraft. The newest Russian and Chinese fighters already in service include various Flanker variants, including the newest one, the Su-35BM, as well as the JF-17, all of which are superior in many respects (including amount of armament, rate of climb, maneuverability, radar capability, and age) to the F-15 (not to mention the F-16). These aircraft are also much cheaper than the F-15 (its newest variant, the F-15 Silent Eagle, costs 100 mn USD per copy) and are available to anyone able to pay for them. So the F-15 is already facing fierce competition.
But Russia and China both have an ace in their sleeves. Russia’s ace is the PAKFA, scheduled to enter service in 2016, and China’s is the J-20, due to enter service the following year. When they join the inventory, they will make EVERY Western fighter other than the F-22 and the F-35 impotent, irrelevant, and useless. At that time, the USAF might as well retire all of its F-15s and F-16s immediately and spare itself the expense of maintaining these old, useless geezers and use that money to resume F-22 production or build stealthy bombers.
The PAKFA and the J-20 will both be highly stealthy, highly capable in A2A and A2G combat, and highly lethal. Only the F-22 and the F-35 can match and outperform them. And it is exactly their purpose to do so.
Although McCain and many others still delude themselves that the only wars America will ever again fight will be against insurgents and weak countries unable to contest control of the air, they’re wrong. Most of America’s potential future adversaries, including the most likely and most dangerous ones, are nation states capable of acquiring a respectable number of advanced SAMs and/or fighters, including Russia, China, Venezuela, and Iran.
The other threat to American air dominance is the proliferation of advanced Russian and Chinese SAM systems such as the S-300, the Tor-M1, the S-400, and the Hongqin family. These systems can detect and shoot down any nonstealthy aircraft easily. That means they can exclude any nonstealthy plane from operating in the area they cover until they are taken out. That, in turn, means that America’s legacy aircraft cannot operate over such areas and are therefore useless for any scenario where such advanced SAM systems or advanced Russian or Chinese fighters are present. It relegates them solely to COIN operations and to intercepting unescorted Russian bombers.
Oh, and speaking of intercepting Russian bombers, F-22s have done so repeatedly and effortlessly. See here.
The F-22 and the F-35, by being highly stealthy (see this comparison of the RCS of various fighter types), can easily avoid detection by radar. Adm. Jonathan Greenert’s recent statement about low-frequency radar does not change this. LF radar can, if developed further, warn people of the presence of stealthy aircraft, but cannot accurately acquire or track them, let alone guide any weapons to shoot them down. Thus, F-22s and F-35s will remain undetectable for many decades to come.
Yet, other critics of the F-22 falsely claim that it has been “defeated” in the 2012 Red Flag exercise by the EF-2000 “Typhoon”. The exercise was not realistic at all, however. It assumed that Raptor pilots would allow EF-2000s to get so close to Raptors that the fight would be within visual range; that it would actually be a dogfight. That is completely unrealistic, however, because that’s not how air combat will be waged in the future, and because F-22s would not, in any event, allow EF-2000s to get close to them and stage a dogfight. These stealthy, undetectable, faceless fighters would shoot the “Typhoons” down with their long-range AIM-120C/D AMRAAM missiles effortlessly. If the enemy used a massive fleet of EF-2000s (who, besides EU-embargoed China, can afford to do that?), a small number of Typhoons may get close to the Raptors and stage a dogfight, but the Raptors would still win, and the enemy would pay a heavy price for that dogfight in terms of unacceptably high aircraft losses.
(Some people also allege that the AIM-120 AMRAAM has a shorter range than the Typhoon’s future Meteor missile. This is clearly wrong, however. The AIM-120C-5 has a range of over 105 kms, and the AIM-120D, already in full production, a range of over 180 kms. The Meteor, which is still in development and won’t enter production until 2013, has a range of just slightly over 100 kms, and the Russian AA-12 Adder “Amraamski” has a range of 160 kms.)
Besides, the only countries that have ordered EF-2000s are America’s allies: Britain, Italy, Spain, Germany, and Saudi Arabia. But even if the EU abolished its arms embargo on China and sold EF-2000s to the PRC (even though the PLAAF is not interested), it would be no cause of concern for the USAF… at least for the F-22 community.
China, Russia, and other enemies of the US do not need the EF-2000, because as soon as J-20s and PAKFAs enter service, they will render EVERY Western fighter other than the F-22 and the F-35 irrelevant and useless. That includes the EF-2000.
Today, stealthiness means survivability, and survivability means everything. As Rebecca Grant of the Mitchell Institute rightly says:
“Precision weapons and rapid targeting information mean little if aircraft are unable to survive engagements with enemy air defenses. In addition to costing the lives of pilots,high levels of attrition can ultimately affect the outcome of the theater campaign. One of the most critical factors in determining the success of an air operation is survivability.”
In short, the F-22 Raptor is the most capable, most versatile, and most useful fighter ever built. And at 150 mn per copy, it is much cheaper than all three variants of the F-35. The smears that its critics spread about it say more about the critics than the F-22 itself. They should be ashamed of themselves for spreading such lies.
I think that the very reason why they smear and malign the F-22 is exactly because of how capable, survivable, and versatile they is. The vast majority of its detractors (including Wheeler and Sprey) are proponents of a weak defense and of massive defense cuts, so obviously they don’t want the USAF to have such a capable fighterplane type.