The Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor is an American single-seat, twin-engine, all-weather stealth tactical fighter aircraft developed for the United States Air Force (USAF).
The aircraft was variously designated F-22 and F/A-22 before it formally entered service in December 2005 as the F-22A
The aircraft was designed as a high end heavyweight combat jet exclusively for air superiority missions, as a direct successor to the F-4E Phantom II and F-15C Eagle of the respective third and fourth generations.
It’s commissioning on December 15th was a much-welcomed addition to the fleet due to ongoing doubts regarding the ability of the F-15 to counter emerging threats from high end Russian fourth generation aircraft, namely the Su-27, Su-30, and MiG-31, with studies of the Su-27 conducted after the Soviet Union’s collapse by American experts confirming many of the worse fears regarding how it fared in terms of performance compared to the American Eagle.
The F-22 has begun development in the 1970s at around the same time the Su-27 had taken its first flight and was designed primarily with countering the advanced Soviet jet in mind.
The collapse of the Soviet Union ensured that the Raptor would be in a league of its own among fighter aircraft, with upgrades to the Su-27 stalling and three major programs for new high-end heavyweight air superiority jets canceled – the MiG-31M, Su-47, and MiG 1.44 – all of which would have otherwise been challengers to the F-22.
The F-22 was prized for its advanced stealth capabilities, with its radar cross section until today widely thought to be the lowest in the world for a manned fighter aircraft.
It’s F119 engines were also the most powerful in the world for an aircraft designed for air to air combat – where previously the Soviet MiG-31’s D-30F6 and the Su-27’s AL-31 had held first and second place respectively.
The Raptor was the second fighter in the world to make use of two-dimensional thrust vectoring, following on from the Russian Su-30, for enhanced maneuverability, and remains the only western fighter to have done so until today.
The aircraft was also the second in the world to make use of an active electronically scanned array radar – following on from the Japanese F-2 ‘4+ generation’ lightweight jet which did so from 2002. This revolutionized its situational awareness relative to older fighters and made its radar far more difficult to jam.
Despite its strong performance, there were several key downsides to the Raptor’s design. The costly fighter program was heavily affected by the end of the Cold War, leading to a less ambitious design with multiple features being removed such as plans for a rear facing radar and infra red search and track system.
Cost is also considered a key reason why the F-22’s design was chosen over the stealthier and more ambitious F-23 which was considered overall to be more capable. Most importantly, however, the final design of the F-22 failed to meet a key goal of the program which was to have easier maintenance and lower operational costs than those of its predecessor the F-15 – which were already very high.
The F-22 today is thought to have the highest maintenance requirements and operational costs of any fighter or interceptor in the world, which in turn has led it to have the lowest availability rates in the U.S. Air Force – far lower than those of the F-15.
The fighter’s extremely high operational costs as a result of its failure to meet this requirement forced a cut of 75% of planned acquisitions for the Air Force and all plans for development other variants such as a strike or naval designs, with the orders to cancel production given less than four years after the fighter’s entry into service.
This contrasted sharply with the F-15, which entered service from 1976 and continues to be produced and enhanced in a number of variants to this day – a major shortcoming of the Raptor program which ultimately meant it could never fully serve as a practical replacement for the much older Eagle.