F-22 Raptor: Why isn't the US building more?

The F-22 Raptor ceased production in 2011. Several influential people continued to urge the program to be revived a few years later, but it was never returned online.

A wide range of interlocking variables contributed to the final decision several years ago not to restart production of the F-22. US Air Force leadership blamed a lack of funds, even though many lawmakers and military officials have been demanding a big restart of the F-22 program in order to increase the size of the US Air Force’s fleet.

F-22: An amazing fighter

When the F-22 burst onto the scene in 2005, it was heralded as its class’s first air supremacy platform. The current number of F-22s is 169, but there were supposed to be many more stealthy Raptors. F-22 production was halted unexpectedly amid the height of the US military’s counterinsurgency in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The possibility of a great power war and the growing threat from China and Russia seemed to recede into the background under the fury of counterterrorism and counterinsurgency, so perhaps planners suffered too much from a short-term “here and now.”

Instead, a longer-term assessment might have recognized the long-term threat that China was already beginning to become.

The F-22 Raptor is a fifth-generation, single-seat, twin-engine, all-weather stealth tactical fighter aircraft designed for air superiority and ground attack missions. It has advanced avionics and sensors that provide superior situational awareness and a suite of weapons that can engage targets beyond visual range.

The F-22’s engines are supercruising, allowing it to sustain supersonic speeds without afterburners, and its stealth design minimizes its radar signature. The aircraft is highly maneuverable, with advanced fly-by-wire controls and a thrust-vectoring system that allows it to perform precise, tight turns. The F-22 is considered one of the most advanced fighter jets in the world and is capable of dominating the skies in any engagement.

The F-22 on the world stage

So if the F-22 production line hadn’t been discontinued too soon, we would now have a much larger and more daunting fleet that would pose a risk to our adversaries. Looking back on the Iraq and Afghanistan years, many Pentagon officials and weapons developers consider the decision to halt production of the F-22 a massive mistake.

Was the debate about the resumption of the line an effort to correct the error? Were budget concerns really the reason? One idea that seems to make sense is that, in retrospect, when the decision was made not to restart the F-22 production line, it was not known how far along the 6th generation aircraft was.

At the very least, concept work and early sub-component prototypes were already underway on the 6th generation stealth fighter and could have been very promising. 

As the 6th generation aircraft is already airborne, it may have come to a lot further along than initially thought. Development technologies, such as digital engineering, have allowed 6th generation prototypes to be in the air years earlier than originally planned.

F-22 Raptor: Why isn't the US building more?

The NGAD will replace the F-22.

NGAD stands for Next Generation Air Dominance, a program by the US Air Force aimed at developing a new fighter aircraft to replace the aging fleet of F-22 Raptors and F-15 Eagles. NGAD is being developed to provide air superiority in contested environments against advanced threats, with enhanced survivability, range, and payload capabilities.

The program is expected to incorporate advanced technologies such as artificial intelligence, directed energy weapons, and hypersonic weapons. The exact specifications of NGAD are classified, but it is known that it will be designed for interoperability with other advanced weapons systems and will be built with a focus on low observability to minimize its radar signature.

One important thing to remember is that when the decisions on the resumption of the F-22 line were made, the 6th generation was making leaps and bounds and held great promise.

This would make sense, as the Next-Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) program is intended more as a replacement for the F-22 than an F-35-like aircraft. For example, a new stealthy, high-speed 6th-generation air supremacy fighter could complement the continuously updated multi-role F-35s.