The FB-22 could have been a revolutionary aircraft, flying alongside the powerful F-22 Raptor. However, technical and budgetary problems prevented this ambitious idea from coming to fruition.
The dream of the F-22 Raptor on aircraft carriers
The F-22 Raptor, an air superiority fighter, is one of the most feared fighting machines. With stealth, supercruise and super maneuverability, the Raptor dominates the sky. However, it was never able to fly from an aircraft carrier.
Congress pressured the Navy to consider adopting a swept-wing version of the F-22 in the Naval Advanced Tactical Fighter (NATF) program. This led to joint Navy/Marine Corps/Air Force combat aircraft programs such as the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.
The plan for a carrier-compatible FB-22 was dropped in 1991 for technical and budgetary reasons.
Limitations and challenges of the FB-22
The FB-22 faced several challenges, such as limited payload and reduced airframe range. Its 600-mile combat radius was not sufficient for a deep-penetrating bomber without relying on tankers in hostile airspace.
The Raptor can only carry four small-diameter bombs in its internal weapons bay. Adding more weaponry to the wings of the fuselage would decrease its stealth.
Integrating a swept wing design, similar to that of the F-14 Tomcat, on the FB-22 also presented problems. These wings are expensive to maintain and would compromise the stealth of the airframe.
The FB-22 in the current context
Although a carrier-capable FB-22 would have been extraordinary, it likely would not have altered the overall capabilities of current U.S. Army carrier platforms.
The Air Force purchased 187 F-22 jets in 2009, hundreds fewer than originally planned. The shift towards the Global War on Terror and the development of cheaper platforms kept the Raptor fleet limited.
Currently, the Air Force is looking to retire older F-22s due to costly maintenance and declining value, though Congress is trying to stop it.
The Legacy of the F-22 Raptor
Despite the limited number of Raptors available, they continue to deter America’s adversaries. If the FB-22 had been developed in the NATF program, it would likely face similar problems as its sister platform today.