Why the F-22 is superior to all competitor aircraft

Of all the blatant lies the F-22’s ignorant critics have stated about it, probably the most ridiculous one is that it’s inferior to competitor aircraft. This is downright laughable, given that, according to numerous experts from AirPowerAustralia analysts to dozens of USAF generals (many of whom have flown the F-22 themselves) to currently serving F-22 pilots (including the two guys who appeared on 60 Minutes to warn about its oxygen problems), the F-22 is the best fighter in the world.

So who’s right? Is the F-22 superior or inferior to its competitors? Let’s find out ourselves.

But before we do, let’s consider what actually makes a good fighterplane and gives it an edge in combat.

Answer: a lot of things. In order to be survivable and lethal, a fighterplane must consist of many superlative elements which, only if applied together, make a great fighter. There is no silver bullet. Stealthiness alone does not make a great fighter, and neither does agility alone.

A good fighterplane needs the following:

  • Superlative aerodynamic and kinematic performance (which means, among other things, a high thrust/weight ratio, a decent wing loading ratio, ability to sustain high Gs, high speed, high maximum altitude, and good climbing capability). This can be enabled only by a properly shaped and built airframe with powerful twin engines. The F-22 has an unrivalled thrust/weight ratio of 1.26:1, a low wing loading ratio of 375 kg/sq meter, the lowest thrust loading ratio on the market (excluding the F-15), and engines that enable it to climb quickly, achieve a 65,000 combat ceiling, and fly at speeds of up to Mach 2.25, i.e. more than twice the speed of sound. Even without afterburners, it can supercruise, i.e. fly at supersonic speeds of up to Mach 1.8 without using its afterburners. Furthermore, its engines have Thrust Vector Control capability, allowing it to turn easily.
  • A superlative radar. The F-22 has the excellent APG-77 AESA radar with 1500 modules, and this radar is rated by AirPowerAustralia as superior to those of all competitors, American and foreign.
  • A respectable weapon payload. In stealthy mode, the F-22 can carry 8 air-to-air missiles. In the nonstealthy mode, it can carry 12.
  • Lethal weapons. The F-22 can carry the AIM-120D AMRAAM, whose maximum range is over 180 kms (better than any other A2A missile except the K-172 and the R-37), and the infrared guided AIM-9X Sidewinder, the newest and most capable variant of the proven Sidewinder missile.
  • A low radar signature, and thus, high survivability. The F-22’s RCS is 0.0001 sq m, thus making it undetectable to all modern radar; futhermore, its thermal signature is also low due to its slit, stealthy engine nozzles and its ability to supercruise (which means there’s no need to use afterburners).
  • The ability to engage and disengage opponents at will. The F-22 has that ability, with its combination of stealthiness, long-range radar, long-range missiles, and supercruise capability. It gets the first look ad the first shot, and if it runs out of missiles, begins running out of fuel, or is in danger, it can egress out of the fight and come back home safely.
  • Experienced, skilled pilots. The F-22 is flown by the best, most skilled, most experienced pilots of the USAF.
  • A gun to be able to prevail in close combat if it runs out of missiles. The F-22, like other American fighters, has a 20mm Gatling gun that can spit hundreds of rounds per minute.

In short, it needs to be able to prevail in both BVR and WVR combat. In the first case, missile range (which can be enhanced with higher speed and altitude), accuracy, radar range and tracking capability, and stealthiness are essential. In the second combat regime, aircraft agility and maneuverability and pilot skills/experience are essential. While historically most air combat has occurred, and (excepting Desert Storm) most kills have been scored, in Within Visual Range Combat, a good fighterplane needs to be proficient at both.

The good news is that the F-22 excels at both.

Now let’s look at how the F-22 compares to foreign competitor aircraft in Beyond Visual Range and Within Visual Range combat.

Below is a table comparing the F-22’s cardinal parameters to those of its competitors:

The metric                         F-22      Su-35S          J-11                       PAKFA          J-20            Su-30
Dry thrust (kN)                       104×2       86.3×2     89.17×2                           N/A           74.5×2
Thrust w/afterburner (kN)                       156×2        142×2     129.4×2                     157+x2          180           127.5×2
Max speed (Mach)                          2.25          2.25          2.35                            2+              2                     2
Combat radius (km)                           759            NA             NA                            NA         2000                  N/A
Service ceiling (ft)                       65000        59100        62523                        65600       65617              56800
Rate of climb (m/s)                           N/A         280+            300                           350                 230
Wing loading (kg/m2)                           375           408            385                    330-470                 401
Thrust/weight ratio                          1.26         1.1:1       1.04:1                       1.19:1              0.98:1
Number of weapons carried (max) 8  internal, 4 external             12             10  4 internal, 6 external                   12
Supercruise                          Yes           Yes            No                           Yes                  No
Range (mi)         3600         2070                           N/A         3418                3000
Internal fuel capacity (lb)                       18000                        22711
Longest missile range (km)                           180
G limit                              9                               9              9                     9

As you can see, the F-22 leads all comers in almost all criteria. It has a decisively superior thrust/weight ratio, is much faster than any competitor but the J-11, can fly higher than anyone else but the PAKFA, has a lower wingloading ratio than anyone else, and can carry 8 A2A missiles internally, while the PAKFA can conceal only four, and all others can carry weapons only externally.

What do those parameters mean?

In BVR combat, the F-22 would get a “first look, first kill capability”, itself being stealthy yet armed with a very powerful radar and with AIM-120D missiles whose nominal range is over 180 kms and can be increased further by flying at high altitudes and speeds. Whoever gets such capability, wins.

But let’s assume that all or most AIM-120Ds miss and the enemy makes it close to the Raptors, thus initiating close combat. What then?

The F-22 still leads all comers with its superior thrust/weight ratio, lower thrust loading ratio compared to anyone else, lower wing loading ratio than anyone else’s, and thrust vectoring capability (which only the Su-35 currently shares; the PAKFA and the J-20 will likely have it as well, especially if both are fitted with AL-31F or AL-41F engines). A 2008 study by John Stillion and Scott Perdue concluded that only the F-22 and the F-15 are agile enough to compete with enemy fighters (and found both of them superior to competitors), but the F-15 lacks TVC capability, while the F-22 has it.

Furthermore, if any of these opponents exposes his rear end to any F-22 for any reason whatsoever, he will be shot down easily, as his classic superhot engine exhaust nozzles make a perfect target for the F-22’s heatseeking AIM-9X Sidewinder missiles. This wouldn’t work against the F-22, which has slit, stealthy engine exhaust nozzles.

And if the F-22 runs out of missiles and gun rounds, or is in danger for any reason, it can egress out of combat and return home safely. Its opponents cannot, owing due to their classic engine exhaust nozzles and lower speed than the F-22’s.

F-22 critic and defense cuts supporter Pierre Sprey, who co-designed the F-16 fighter and is so wedded to this anachronic aircraft, wants the USAF to fly it instead of the F-22 and claims that it’s better at air superiority than the Raptor. WarIsBoring.com says that

“Sprey, a long-time critic of a military bureaucracy that consistently produces bigger, heavier and more expensive aircraft that can be bought only in limited quantities, now is poking holes in the Air Force’s rationale for wanting more F-22 stealth fighters.”

But Sprey is poking holes in nothing except the F-16’s clothes. The rationale for more F-22s is sound. The F-22 may be bigger and heavier, but it’s irrelevant given that it has a far better thrust/weight ratio than any other contemporary or projected fighter – American, European, Russian, or Chinese (except maybe the J-20, itself being a large, heavy fighter). This is because the F-22’s engines give it thrust that give the F-22 its superior T/W ratio of 1.26:1. By contrast, the Russian PAKFA “Raptorski” T/W ratio is 1.19:1, the Eurofighter Typhoon’s is only 1.15:1, the F-15’s is 1.12:1, and the F-16’s is a pathetic, laughable 1.095:1.

As for being expensive, the F-22 would’ve been far cheaper if the planned 600 Raptors were bought, instead of only 187, which precluded economies of scale. Even so, an F-22 is a far better investment than an obsolete F-15 or F-16.

The F-16 is decisively inferior to, and the F-15 offers, at best, parity against, the Flanker family, a topic which will be discussed in more detail later.

In summation, the F-22 is decisively superior to all competitors in beyond and within visual range combat, while legacy US aircraft are inferior. The DOD should reverse its decision to terminate F-22 production.

17 thoughts on “Why the F-22 is superior to all competitor aircraft”

    1. No, it’s not almost as good. It’s decisively inferior. And their WL does not compensate for their HUGE radar signature which makes them easy to detect from a distance of at least 80 kilometers even if they use their jammers. Furthermore, the altitudes and speeds at which the Rafale (Mach 1.8 and 55 angels) can fly are decisively inferior to those of the F-22 and even the F-15, not to mention the Flanker family, the PAKFA, and the J-20.

      1. Concerning your statement of RCS: This issue is disputable. Concerning the effect: German Typhoons already showed during Red Flag Alaska 2012, that they could jam their opponent´s radars down to just 32km… To say, that one fighter is per se superior or inferior to another under those conditions is not serious.

    2. But of course, the US military is built to achieve REAL military victories, not “French military victories”.

    3. I have already shown you why it is not true. You cannot compare aircraft with 50% fuel and standard weapons load (F-22) with aircraft with 100% fuel and the same weapons load (Eurofighter Typhoon).

      As for altitude, that never was the point. You have claimed that “The F-22 still leads all comers with its superior thrust/weight ratio, lower thrust loading ratio compared to anyone else, lower wing loading ratio than anyone else’s, and thrust vectoring capability”. That statement is incorrect. F-22 has higher wing loading with 50% fuel, 2 Sidewinders and 4 AMRAAM than Eurofighter Typhoon or Dassault Rafale in the same configuration. Its TWR is only slightly higher than Typhoon’s in the same configuration.

      1. WRONG. The EF-2000’s T/W ratio at 50% fuel plus weapons is just 1.15:1, the F-22’s in the same configuration is 1.29:1. This is a big difference AFAIC. I’m comparing apples to apples, despite your false claims to the contrary.

    4. And French had better hardware than Germans in WW2… what they lacked was leadership like the one from the time of Napoleonic wars…

      1. The French had worse tanks than the Germans during WW2. They also lacked the balls to fight. (How do you say “I surrender” in French?)

      2. The French had worse tanks than the Germans during WW2. They also lacked the balls to fight. (How do you say “I surrender” in French?)

      3. Panzers were no match for Char I bis or Matilda in head-on combat. But Allied commanders did not realize that tanks can go through Ardenes. In total, Germans had less troops, only slightly more tanks, and worse to comparable equipment. What they did have was superior integration of all military arms into one fighting force, revolutionary doctrine, and commanders who knew how to use all of it to effect.

      4. Most French tanks were not Char I bis type tanks. Most of them were R35s, S35s, and similar obsolete, weakly-armored, weakly-armed tanks. They were inferior to the PzKpfw II and III.

      5. No, Picard. The Germans actually had MORE troops than the Allies (3,350,000 soldiers vs 3,300,000 Allied troops), TWICE more aircraft, but 900 fewer tanks. Also, most German generals, like their French counterparts, did not, at that time, realize the potential of tanks and considered these vehicles to be nothing but infantry support vehicles. Only a few like Manstein, Guderian, and Rommel understood how useful tanks were on their own. It was Manstein who drafted the plan for conquering France and convinced Hitler to accept it – over the objections of the vast majority of other German generals and staff officers.

      6. Allies actually had 900 tanks MORE than Germans did, and almost twice as much artillery pieces. What you are saying about their use of tanks is correct – whereas German tanks were grouped in armoured divisions, French and British tanks were assigned to individual infantry units. But it does not change the fact that Char-B and Matilda tanks were superior to any German tank of the time.

  1. Like I said, the Allies had 900 more tanks than the Germans, but fewer troops and twice fewer aircraft. The Char-B and Matilda tanks were NOT superior to “any German tank of the time”.

    The most advanced German tank of the time was the Panzerkampfwagen IV, introduced in 1939. It had an 80 mm frontal armor and a 75 mm main gun, same caliber as the Char-B. The Char-B, however, had decisively inferior armor: 40mm in the Char-B variant and 60mm in the Char-B bis variant. This also made it inferior to the Pzkpfw III, which had a 70mm frontal armor and (from Ausfuehrung N onwards) a 75mm main gun. Production of the Panzer III was stopped in 1937.

    But of course, the Char-B was not the main French tank of the Battle of France anyway. The R35 and the S35 were. Both were obsolete and decisively inferior to the Pzkpfw III and Pzkpfw IV in terms of both armor and guns. They were at best comparable to the Pzkpfw II.

    The Matilda II tank had a respectable frontal armor (78 mm), but a decisively inferior main gun: a 2 pounder 40mm gun. The Matilda I was even more inferior, with frontal armor of no more than 60mm and a Vickers machinegun as its main armament.

    You’re flat wrong, Picard, as usual. The Allied tanks of the time were INFERIOR to German ones.

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