What's the Key Difference Between the F-35 and F-22?

Fighter jets constantly change, and people often argue about which is better. People often talk about the F-35 and the F-22 and what makes them different. Some people think the F-35 is better because of the unique design that allows it to move well, while others think it’s because of the avionics radar equipment. But one important thing that people need to discuss more is how many bombs they can carry. Now the question arises, What’s the Key Difference Between the F-35 and F-22? Let’s find out.

The F-22’s Legacy

During the final years of the Cold War, the United States faced a daunting challenge in the form of powerful Soviet fighter jets stationed in Eastern Europe. In response, the F-22 was developed as a highly advanced aircraft optimized for air combat capabilities while also possessing the flexibility necessary to engage larger enemy formations. With its cutting-edge technology and exceptional performance, the F-22 remains a key asset of the U.S. Air Force to this day.

What's the Key Difference Between the F-35 and F-22?

The F-22 is a powerful fighter plane, especially in air-to-air combat. It has impressive firepower, with the ability to carry up to six medium-range air-to-air missiles in its primary bomb bay, located in the belly. The left and right auxiliary bomb bays can each hold one missile or a total of nine short-range bombs, allowing the plane to carry up to eight bombs in total.

The F-35’s Perspective

Let’s compare the air-to-air missile capacity of the F-35 and the F-22. The F-35 can hold four medium-range air-to-air missiles in its internal bomb bay, while the F-22 can carry twice as many. This difference is important because the F-22 can take out four air targets with just two missiles against one enemy, while the F-35 can only do this for two targets.

While the F-35 offers a “beast mode” option that allows it to carry an extensive array of missiles on external hardpoints, this comes at a significant cost – compromising its stealth capabilities. 

What's the Key Difference Between the F-35 and F-22?

In high-stakes air combat scenarios against formidable adversaries, employing this option becomes nearly impossible. It’s no secret that the U.S. military grapples with the F-35’s limited bomb load, a problem potentially more severe than its slightly reduced maneuverability. Nevertheless, steps are being taken to address this issue.

Enhancing the F-35’s Firepower Sustainability

Lockheed Martin has significantly modified the F-35’s firepower sustainability, which may soon improve significantly. The company has adapted the F-35’s built-in weapons bay and air-to-air missiles, and their progress has been recently unveiled.

Enter the “Sidekick” – a novel device designed to increase the number of AIM-120 advanced medium-range air-to-air missiles the F-35 can carry internally from four to six. This innovation substantially bolsters the F-35’s sustained air combat capability, aligning it with the F-22’s AIM-120 missile capacity.

USAF completes testing of AIM-120C-8 with Raytheon

It is unclear what exactly the “Sidekick” equipment does, but it’s important to mention that the latest version of the F-35, the Block 4, is already being produced. This new equipment is expected to improve the capabilities of the F-35A and F-35C models significantly.

Regrettably, the F-35B is unlikely to receive similar upgrades due to the constraints imposed by its vertical takeoff and landing system, which limits the available space in the built-in bomb bay. Reviewing Lockheed Martin’s descriptions of some of the latest F-35 improvement projects, it’s evident that these upgrades will encompass a new active electronically scanned array radar capable of integrating and employing a wider array of cutting-edge weaponry.

Impacting Global Aviation

Now, let’s delve into the broader impact of these two iconic fighter jets on global aviation. Beyond their performance statistics, both the F-35 and the F-22 have influenced the aviation landscape worldwide.

1. Global Inspiration

These airplanes have inspired other nations to enhance their fighter jet capabilities. The modern technology, stealth characteristics, and advanced avionics demonstrated by the F-35 and F-22 have encouraged other countries to pursue their own projects to develop advanced fighter planes.

2. Technological Advancements

The F-35 and F-22 developments have significantly impacted the aviation industry. The progress made in radar systems, stealth technology, and advanced materials has been incorporated into civilian aviation, leading to improved safety and efficiency for commercial air travel.

3. International Collaborations

The F-35 has become a symbol of international cooperation, with partner nations like the United Kingdom, Italy, and Australia collaborating on the program. This has fostered diplomatic ties and strengthened alliances, setting an example for future joint projects in the aerospace sector.

4. Strategic Influence

Fighter jets have maintained the United States and its allies’ strategic influence worldwide. Their unmatched capabilities and versatility highlight the significance of air superiority in modern warfare, resulting in increased investments in defense budgets to strengthen national security.

The J-20 Question

Lastly, let’s address a pressing question: Is the J-20 genuinely less powerful than the F-35? On the surface, it may appear so. The J-20 boasts three built-in magazines: the primary bomb bay underneath and auxiliary bomb bays on both sides. The primary bay can hold up to four PL-15 long-range air-to-air missiles, essentially occupying the entire space. 

The J-20 can carry up to four medium-range and two short-range air-to-air missiles internally in its auxiliary bomb bays without any external attachments.

However, it’s crucial to delve deeper into the comparison. One key factor affecting the J-20’s payload is the size and weight of the PL-15 missile used by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). 

The PL-15 missile used by the PLA has a longer range than the U.S. military, requiring it to be larger and heavier. The U.S. military’s missile, called AIM-120C, weighs 152kg, is 3.6m long, and has a diameter of 178mm. In comparison, the PLA’s PL-15E missile, which is the export version, is 3.99m long, has a diameter of 203mm, and weighs about 210kg. These differences in missile specifications significantly impact the missile’s bomb load capacity.

The J-20 plane can carry up to six short-range air-to-air missiles in its bomb bay, which may not be useful for its mission.


In conclusion, the comparison between the F-35 and F-22 fighter jets is complicated. It’s not just about the number of bombs a plane can carry but also about missile capabilities, mission objectives, and overall effectiveness. Lockheed Martin is committed to maintaining air superiority by continuously enhancing the F-35’s firepower sustainability with innovations like “Sidekick.”