This year marks the 25th anniversary of the Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor’s maiden flight. America’s first fifth-generation fighter was supposed to be the aircraft that would secure our air superiority for decades to come.
However, it looks like this aircraft won’t last as long as we thought. The USAF has already decommissioned a good part of the Lockheed Martin F-22 fleet, and it is not in production anymore– and with the upcoming arrival of sixth-generation aircraft, the F-22’s future doesn’t seem to be very promising.
What caused this excellent aircraft to fail? Could the F-22 be considered a mistake?
A fighter jet that never fought
The F-22 Raptor was designed to be the most advanced fighter jet in the world. It is incredibly fast, maneuverable, and is equipped with some of the most sophisticated radar and sensors available.
F-22 Raptor does a sharp turn— fighter Jets ✈️ (@_fighterJets_) September 10, 2022
Credit: https://t.co/lmlLBCJAM0 pic.twitter.com/Vc25DqqlB5
It can also carry a large payload of missiles and bombs, making it a very formidable opponent in combat.
However, despite all of its advanced capabilities, the Lockheed Martin F-22 has never been used in combat and hasn’t earned a place as a legend of the skies in the USAF.
It was never meant to be an aircraft for global use and isn’t compatible with many of the other aircraft in the USAF fleet.
As it was so unique, the US decided not to sell it globally since its technology was likely to be quickly picked up by foreign powers.
But, this limited its usefulness in combat situations and narrowed its chances of serving in forces other than the United States. That’s why it doesn’t have the global impact of the F-35 that is currently employed by dozens of countries.
Its high operational costs make it less desirable now
Despite its great innovations, the F-22 is incredibly expensive – and there are many aircraft with lower costs that can do an excellent job more cost-effectively.
Even fourth-generation aircraft such as the F-15 Eagle, F-16 Fighting Falcon, or F/A-18 Hornet have done a great job with no need of relying on stealth capabilities.
For this reason, keeping such an expensive fleet in active service is inefficient when other aircraft can perform similar missions.
WATCH ➡️ The U.S. Air Force needs a new fighter jet. The price tag, however, could be multiple hundreds of millions of dollars.— Straight Arrow News (@StraightArrow__) September 13, 2022
To help cover the costs, the Air Force wants to retire the F-22 Raptor, one of its newest fighters, in the next 10 years.@BroadcastRyan reports 👇. pic.twitter.com/v4zzZOUN7s
Similarly, the Lockheed Martin F-22 is difficult to maintain and keep operational. It has a number of complex systems that require constant care and attention.
Its tech won’t be the latest in the next decade
The Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor was initially designed in the late 1980s and first flew in 1997. So, it hasn’t the latest technologies available today.
Newer fighter jets like the F-35 surpass the Raptor in terms of technology and maneuverability.
And it won’t be able to compete with sixth-generation aircraft that will start to fly in the next years. They are still in the early stages of development. But when they’re ready to enter service, it will be the death sentence for the Lockheed Martin F-22.
Hot on the heels of increased program funding from Congress, Lockheed Martin’s Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) remains on-track to move from development to production as Congress and the Defense community seek a replacement for the F-22 Raptor. pic.twitter.com/N9M4lTj7si— Forward Observer (@fo_intel) July 28, 2021
In the end, the USAF prefers investing more in future projects than having a massive fleet of expensive Raptors that are fleet of expensive Raptors that are definitely not cost-effective.
The Lockheed Martin F-22 didn’t meet all expectations despite its technological breakthrough
Given all of these problems, the Lockheed Martin F-22 didn’t reach its full potential. Probably, the export ban on the program severely limited its capabilities. But, the aircraft is aging, and it is not cost-effective for the USAF anyway.
In any case, claiming that the F-22 is a failure is a gross exaggeration because it opened the way for other stealth aircraft. However, its lack of global reach and high costs killed its potential.
Featured image credit: F-22 by Heather Salazar. Public Domain.