The United States Air Force is in the middle of a controversy due to the possible early retirement of the F-22 Raptor, the first fifth-generation stealth fighter.
Despite political opposition from Congress, the Pentagon intends to phase out this legendary aircraft to allocate the budget for developing Next Generation Air Dominance ( NGAD ).
Will the F-22 be retired?
The early retirement of the F-22 could take place as early as next year, and it would be possible to decommission 32 of these planes in Congress in a comprehensive package that would include the release of several A-10 attack planes and the E-3 eye-in-the-sky.
According to Secretary of the Air Force Frank Kendall, there is a good chance that the F-22 Raptor may be retired earlier than expected due to positive cooperation between relevant committees.
The retirement of the F-22 is anticipated to occur within the next decade, but it is expected to remain in service until its replacement, the Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) fighter, becomes operational. To bridge the gap between the F-22 and the NGAD fighter, the US Air Force is implementing upgrades and modifications to the F-22 fleet.
These upgrades include the introduction of new stealthy underwing fuel tanks and associated pylons, as well as potential enhancements to the aircraft’s missiles and electronic warfare capabilities.
The new fuel tanks aim to address some of the reduction in the Raptor’s stealth capabilities. Increasing the aircraft’s range while maintaining its survivability is crucial for future mission success.
The upgraded fuel tanks, known as the F-22 Low Drag Tank and Pylon (LDTP), are designed to replace the previous tanks and pylons with a new, stealthier design. These tanks can be ejected from the wings, leaving a smooth surface behind to preserve the Raptor’s stealth characteristics.
The images also depict separate underwing pods, which could house an improved electronic warfare suite or the long-awaited Infrared Search and Track (IRST) capability for the F-22.
Furthermore, the images indicate the presence of a new missile, potentially the upcoming AIM-260 long-range radar-guided air-to-air missile. This showcases the continuous expansion of the F-22’s Beyond Visual Range (BVR) weapons arsenal.
Why remove it?
Retiring the F-22 would free up the NGAD budget and save hundreds of millions of dollars in annual maintenance costs. Also, according to experts, the F-22 requires an expensive refurbishment that involves new electronic warfare technologies, weapons, avionics, and capabilities. Also, the F-22 is designed for air superiority, limiting its ability in other missions.
Why keep it?
Congress has questioned why the F-22s are not upgraded to modern fighters, given their superiority to the F-35 in terms of features. However, calculations show that this would cost more than 3 billion dollars and would take a decade, which is not feasible in terms of costs and time.
In addition, some military specialists point out that air superiority remains a key task in many conflict scenarios.
Although the retirement of the F-22 is still a matter of debate and controversy, the final decision may be made next year. The withdrawal of the F-22 would represent a commitment to developing new technologies and military capabilities that allow the United States Air Force to stay ahead in the future.
However, it should also be noted that air superiority remains a critical task for many military operations and that the F-22 has been a valuable asset in this task in the past.