What’s Wrong with the F-22?

24.06.09

Categorie: Air, David Axe |

tankerwing2shipraptor.jpg

by DAVID AXE

Congress has issued a direct challenge to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, over the F-22 Raptor stealth fighter. Gates wants to end production of the $150-million-a-pop, super-plane, at 187 copies, in favor of more armed drones and intelligence aircraft. But Congress wants at least 12 more Raptors, and is willing to pony up the cash.

Gates says the F-22 represents too much capability, at an unaffordable price. Congress says we need more F-22s, to hedge against China, Russia and other rising powers. After all, only the F-22 can penetrate sophisticated air defenses, to prosecute major air campaigns, no?

Lost in all this is the litany of things many F-22s can’t do. Turns out, there are some surprising gaps in the Raptor’s skills. Dave Majumdar’s important, but confusing, piece in The Examiner is worth reading, in full, but here are the key points, as best as I can suss out:

* Of the 187 aircraft ordered so far, only the last 87 or so will feature the full range of planned missile and bomb armament, and data-link capability. That means AIM-9X, AIM-120D, Small Diameter Bomb, Electronic Attack and the new Multi-function Advanced Data-link. Thirty-four aircraft — training and test machines, mostly — cannot be economically upgraded with new systems. The balance of around 65 jets will receive some, but not all, upgrades.

* No F-22s will have Helmet-Mounted Cueing Systems, or the ability to fire air-to-air missiles in off-boresight situations. That seriously degrades the Raptor’s dogfighting capability.

(Photo: Air Force)

Related:
Raptor Gets Congressional Reprieve
Offiziere.ch: the Emerging U.S. Counter-Insurgency Air Force
Congressional Budget Office’s Plans to Save the Air Force
Air Force Turns a Corner
Gates Budgetpalooza: Air Force Loses Altitude
The Day U.S. Air Power Was Saved from Itself
F-22s versus Russia’s Rusting, Ramshackle Air Force
Analysts: Buy Fighters, or Die
Boeing Unveils New “Stealthy” F-15
Getting the Most from Your New F-22

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15 Responses to “What’s Wrong with the F-22?”

  1. Jesse Krembs says:

    Can you give an example of an “off-boresight situations” I’m trying to figure out what it is?

  2. C. M. says:

    As somebody who’s worked the same technology behind the HMCS, I was always curious how they got it to work. The sensors are sensitive to changes in magnetic fields, which would be pretty common when you’re inside a plane next to a pair of giant turbofans.

    Apparently the folks designing it couldn’t figure it out either…

  3. David Axe says:

    C.M.,

    “Off-boresight” basically means the enemy is at your side or above or below, rather than right in front of your nose.

  4. ELP says:

    34? Those that complain about the F-22 upgrade path will be in for a big shock after the first 100 or so F-35 mistake jets are made…..

    Anyone that writes an article about the F-22 capability and fails to mention the AN/ALR-94 and how it operates with the APG-77 has a very weak grasp of the jets combat capability.

    The F-22 can throw an AMRAAM up to 40-50% further than any one else = better no escape zone solutions. It will also throw a JDAM and SDB much further. Again this is important to increase survival.

    If you are a B or C, model F-35, you may have left the deck that day without your gun pod. A gun which has less than half the ammo of an F-22. With the 7 and 7.5 G F-35B and C this is important because you aren’t going to be carrying very many missiles as opposed to the 8 carried internally by the F-22.

    The yet to be proven F-35 won’t be able to go where the F-22 can. Super-cruise, extreme height and speed and better stealth quality are what belong to the F-22. This is also important in a advanced enemy air defense environment so as to do something as simple as ELINT-ISR (again AN/ALR-94 work)

    Operations: USELESS DIRT 1 and 2 delayed money from the F-22 program upgrades years ago. Funny? Wait till the F-35 program suffers the same fate in a debtor economy/fed budget.

    Growth Room. The F-22 has space in the nose for other kit.The F-35? Not so much.

    One may want to consider how many hundreds of “mistake jets” the F-35 program will deliver with such minimal flight test effort to learn from.

    Considering that the F-35 program has already stated that getting first flight done on a jet and then having to put it back into the shop to have work done was a huge mistake, well, there you go. Hype over substance. Par for the arms industry.

    So go ahead and cancel the F-22, an aircraft that did 100 percent MC rates in a recent exercise. And… the production is mature.

    After the F-22 does its work, guess what? You don’t need a gold plated and unproven F-35. Legacy jets, the A-10 and even the OV-10 ( remember them? ) are a heck of a lot more useful.

  5. [...] Related: What’s Wrong with the F-22? Raptor Gets Congressional Reprieve Offiziere.ch: the Emerging U.S. Counter-Insurgency Air Force Congressional Budget Office’s Plans to Save the Air Force Air Force Turns a Corner Gates Budgetpalooza: Air Force Loses Altitude The Day U.S. Air Power Was Saved from Itself F-22s versus Russia’s Rusting, Ramshackle Air Force Analysts: Buy Fighters, or Die Boeing Unveils New “Stealthy” F-15 No Comments so far Leave a comment RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI Leave a comment Line and paragraph breaks automatic, e-mail address never displayed, HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <code> <em> <i> <strike> <strong> [...]

  6. [...] War Is Boring Congress has issued a direct challenge to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, over the F-22 Raptor stealth fighter. Gates wants to end production of the $150-million-a-pop, super-plane, at 187 copies, in favor of more armed drones and intelligence aircraft. But Congress wants at least 12 more Raptors, and is willing to pony up the cash. [...]

  7. Michael says:

    I like David Axe’s logic: as only the last 87 Raptors can do it all, let us stop buying them altogether. As a way, I guess, to punish those early birds for their deficiencies?

  8. [...] But the F-22’s electronic-attack skills have remained dormant, while the Air Force focuses on honing the jet’s air-to-air prowess, and improving vexing maintenance problems. The Raptor won’t be able to jam enemy radars, until 2011 — and then, only half the fleet will have that capability. The Raptor suffers other, serious limitations, that haven’t been widely reported. As many as half of the jets already paid for, lack modern dogfighting systems, such as helmet-mounted sights. Still, the F-22 is the only jet that can routinely “supercruise” — flying faster than sound, without afterburner — and there are hints it can use this ability to loft AMRAAM air-to-air missiles, high enough to kill enemy satellites. But that wasn’t enough to sway top generals, when asked to choose between the Raptor and the much cheaper F-18. In a recent mock dogfight, an EA-18G “killed” an F-22 — one of only a handful of times any other fighter has managed such a feat, in the air. Now the electronic F-18 has also beaten the Raptor in the hallways of the Pentagon. [...]

  9. [...] Related: The Amazing, Post-F-35, Photoshopped, Manned Fighters How to Turn a Drone into a Dogfighter Surveillance Orbits for From-Scratch Air Forces Murtha’s Air Force: More F-22s and Tankers, Delayed F-35 What’s Wrong with the F-22? Raptor Gets Congressional Reprieve Offiziere.ch: the Emerging U.S. Counter-Insurgency Air Force Congressional Budget Office’s Plans to Save the Air Force Air Force Turns a Corner Gates Budgetpalooza: Air Force Loses Altitude The Day U.S. Air Power Was Saved from Itself No Comments so far Leave a comment RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI Leave a comment Line and paragraph breaks automatic, e-mail address never displayed, HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <code> <em> <i> <strike> <strong> [...]

  10. [...] The U.S. Air Force’s fighter fleet modernizes on a roughly 20-year cycle. It takes at least that long for most new planes and munitions to complete development and enter service in meaningful numbers. Consider the Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor, which entered squadron service in 2005, 24 years after its initial requirement was written. New weapons are both driven by, and in turn drive, new tactics and procedures. [...]

  11. [...] The U.S. Air Force’s fighter fleet modernizes on a roughly 20-year cycle. It takes at least that long for most new planes and munitions to complete development and enter service in meaningful numbers. Consider the Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor, which entered squadron service in 2005, 24 years after its initial requirement was written. New weapons are both driven by, and in turn drive, new tactics and procedures. [...]

  12. [...] radars, until 2011 — and then, only half the fleet will have that capability. The Raptor suffers other, serious limitations, that haven’t been widely reported. As many as half of the jets already paid for, lack modern [...]

  13. Ken Fischer says:

    It sounds like the F-35 will cost more per copy
    than the F-22, some of the added cost is surely
    the result of trying to make one airframe be
    3 different airplanes.
    But the program has progressed too far to do
    much about it, too bad some of the customers
    won’t be able to afford it.
    Stealth is not the reason for the rising price,
    stealth shapes are actually low cost to produce,
    every navy in the world is building ships and
    boats with what is obviously stealth shaping,
    the rising F-35 costs are more a case of too
    many requirements written into the specifications,
    the same mistake was made 30 years ago, but that
    program did not proceed.
    I made a mistake in 1988 when I abandoned my
    claim number one, it was almost identical to
    the claim number one in the F-117 vehicle
    patent, the patent examiner said it was not
    original enough. I assumed no other entity
    would be able to claim flat faceted surfaces
    because a paper I wrote in 1977 about “flat
    (plane) surfaces would reflect radar returns
    in a direction other than back to the receiver”
    became public knowledge when my airfoil patent
    issued in January of 1976, and that should have
    prevented the F-117 patent claim number one
    being allowed because the F-117 Vehicle patent
    application was not filed until Feb. 13th, 1979.
    I received allowance for all 31 of my other claims
    in 1988, security prevented the patent from issuing
    until 1996, and even then it should have remained
    classified, the bunglings of a Clinton appointee
    on the Armed Services Patent Commitee caused it
    to issue.
    My view of stealth shapes is not so much to
    penetrate another country’s airspace, but just
    to penetrate any air defenses set up by an
    invading army encroaching on a neighbor.
    I have no idea what the government programs
    require or why they cost so much, but it is
    surely not the stealth shaping.
    With such big problems in funding certain to
    become evident within the next year, higher
    aircraft costs are not welcome, they may
    not cause the F-35 program to crash, but
    they will almost certainly reduce the number
    of customers and unit production.

  14. LEG says:

    High Off Boresight Capability or ‘HOBS’ for short is less about the position of the target from the shooter (angle off the nose) than it is the relative pointing angle of the missile seeker from it’s own centerline.

    The AIM-9X has roughly 60` of useful and 90` of absolute HOBS tracking capability. Yet the U.S. air services maintain rather stringent rules about ‘no mad dog’ launch constraints wherein the pilot has to -know- that the missile is looking at the target he intends to shoot before firing.

    This gets to be something of a pain when your fixed heads up display combiner only covers about 40`, centered on the nose of the jet. Often the APG-77 or (theoretically) AAR-56 can ‘see’ the target, well enough to cue the missile, but this just means the target designator box is locked at the ege of the HUD and so confirmation just isn’t good enough to ensure a valid launch.

    A Helmet Mounted Cuing System, (HMCS, formerly ‘Joint’ HMCS) lets the missile reticle tracking diamond itself be displayed directly upon the pilot’s helmet visor so if he can see the target, the helmet symbology will tell him whether the missile does too as a function of whether it’s within launch constraints for getting up to speed before pitching over to track (a lot of Fox-2 shots are lost simply because the dynamic launch zone exceeds maximum or minimum range for target heading crossing angle, before the missile can react).

    In point of truth, this is one of those ‘ainh’ kinds of things. The F-22, like it’s F-15 precursor (‘Rodan’ or ‘The Aluminum Overcast’) is really too big and too valuable to try and sneak into visual air combat.

    Particularly where the AIM-9X effective range of about 25km is really only about 10km on a maneuvering target.

    Which means that the Raptor pilot has to slow -way- down, before the visual merge, to avoid being G compressed or signature threshold exceeded (too hot) to avoid being impaled on his own velocity vector.

    Where most threat jets these days have IRSTs that will see the Raptor at 30km or more (i.e. before their radar will) and there are only 2 ‘danger close’, AIM-9X = bootknife, shots compared to 6 AIM-120C/D with 70km effective ranges, it really doesn’t make much sense to go pushing one’s luck in a jet that is twice the size and easily five times the cost of an optimized dogfighter like the F-16.

    Though it is capable of that kind of fight, that’s not what the Raptor is about.

    Which is where I would like to add something else.

    The nature of SSC or Sustained Supersonic Cruise is not simply to boost the kinematic performance of misssiles (though it does that, by upwards of 50%). What SSC really buys you is fast transit between your basein and the target area.

    Where the need to base-in 1,000nm or more away from the target to avoid threat ballistic weapons, political influence or dangerous local insurgents is a given (Desert Storm + 10 is why most nations don’t want our force presence anymore, we are the guests who never leave), high end supercruise can be a lifesaver in quickly generating the kinds of over-fence sortie rates to win a war before the enemy can shift forces around or escalate.

    Specifically, it allows missions to be thought of as ‘legs’ rather than absolute range or (halved) radii. So that, where 45 minutes at Mach 1.5 gets you to a tanker 600nm down range and 20 minutes at Mach 1.78 gets you 300nm to bomb release. While another 20 minutes puts you back at the tanker and another 45minutes gets you home. You have mission durations of around 3-3.5 hours. In a typical 12-16 hour flying day, that translates to at least 3 sorties per airframe, accounting for things like combat turn reloading and the odd maintenance issue.

    Comparitively, a subsonic cruise F-16 or F-35, will do that same distance (roughly a 900nm radius or 1,800nm range) in about 6-8hrs. Which means that you will be lucky to get 1.5 sorties per day, per jet and your target data may be as much as 11hrs old by the time you get there (difference between ATO frag request and airpower arrival on station were as much as 17hrs in Operation Enduring Freedom so there are clearly additional, bureaucratic and logistical, elements in play here).

    And the proof of all this is simple: with roughly the same fuel load and TWO engines (i.e. twice the fuel burn) the F-22 has the same combat radius as the F-35. Speed as a function of miles per minute really buys you legs in overall flight range. And it does so in the ‘ho hum’ profile portion of the mission where you are more like a Concorde pilot than Top Gun instructor.

  15. [...] Milblogger David Axe has decried the Air Force’s tendency to place all of its eggs in the F-22 basket.  Instead, Axe has advocated a holistic view of aerial warfare.  Rather than a handful of [...]

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