F-22 fighters wear invisible oil tanks under their wings
Simulation of the auxiliary oil tank and sensor compartment on the F-22. Graphics: Lockheed Martin

The US F-22 fighter carries an auxiliary oil tank with a stealth design and a sensor compartment under the wing to enhance combat capabilities.

Photo released on March 23 shows an F-22 stealth fighter flying near the Mojave Spaceport, California, carrying an auxiliary oil tank with a stealth design and a sensor cluster under the wing. This F-22 may belong to a unit specializing in testing located at Edwards Air Force Base.

The F-22 is considered one of the most modern fighter models in the world, but its stealth design limits its ability to carry fuel, causing this aircraft model to have a very short range. “When it reached the Pacific region, the F-22’s operating area was expanded, causing an auxiliary tank with a stealth design for this fighter to be born,” TWZ editors Joseph Trevithick and Tyler Rogoway Rogoway

The F-22’s auxiliary oil tank can hold more than 2,200 liters of fuel. They are designed to be separated from the aircraft in combat situations, completely restoring the aircraft’s stealth capabilities.

The F-22 fighter carries an auxiliary oil tank and a sensor compartment mounted under the wing in a photo published on March 23. Photo: X/TF23

The F-22 fighter carries an auxiliary oil tank and a sensor compartment mounted under the wing, as shown in a photo published on March 23. Photo: X/TF23

The F-22’s stealthy underwing compartment allows it to carry large sensors or additional communications systems, helping to bring a number of new capabilities to the fighter. Among these, the infrared signal search and tracking system (IRST) will likely be installed.

“The trade-off of stealth for IRST capabilities shows how important this system has become, especially in detecting targets with stealthy designs becoming increasingly popular around the world,” Trevithick and Rogoway identify. “Two F-22 fighters carrying IRST can significantly improve the situational awareness of a squadron of four aircraft, even larger squadrons.”

The US is developing the Next Generation Air Domination Aircraft (NGAD) to replace the F-22, and new weapons technologies may begin testing on this fighter model.

The F-22 fighter is receiving a series of upgrades, such as data processing capabilities, radar, communications and defense support systems.

Experience gained from developing a stealth tank for the F-22 could bring value to the F-35 program. This fighter model is expected to participate in long-range missions in the Pacific or face threats with its stealth design. However, to date, there is no conventional or stealth auxiliary tank qualified for all three F-35 variants.