Why a Large Part of F-22 Raptors Will Be Mothballed by the US Air Force

The F-22 is the greatest air superiority fighter of its time, so why will its numbers be reduced over the next couple of years.
F-22 Raptor

The United States considers the F-22 a major asset to maintain the airpower of the US Air Force.

As such, the F-22 Raptor was conceived to be a flagship fighter jet of the US with state-of-the-art technology, but its technology eventually became its Achilles heel, having higher maintenance and operating cost than other fighter jets.

For this reason, the US intends to replace part of its F-22 Raptor fleet to save costs and give priority to other aircraft said to be already in development.

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How much are the operational costs of an F-22? Does it make sense to take so many F-22s out of service when they are currently still the best fighter jets worldwide?

The F-22 Raptor

Lockheed Martin F 22A Raptor JSOH
Lockheed Martin F-22A Raptor by Rob Shenk under CC BY-SA 2.0

Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor is a stealth fighter designed by the United States in the late 1980s to replace the F-15 and produced between 1996 and 2011.

It was primarily designed as an air superiority fighter but has additional abilities that allow it to perform missions including ground attack, electronic warfare, and signals intelligence (SIGINT).

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Today, it is still one of the USAF’s most advanced fighter aircraft, and it has seen combat in Syria and Afghanistan.

But… the F-22 has high maintenance and operational cost

F-22 Raptor
Flying F-22 by pxhere.com. Public Domain

The F-22 fighter entered service in 2006, and it was regarded as a success from a technical point of view, except for one point – its high maintenance cost that started to cast doubt on the fighter’s viability in the years to come.

Maintenance costs didn’t meet expectations and turned out to be much more expensive compared to other aircraft. In addition, the Raptor’s flight hour is around U$S 70,000, which means that for every hour the F-22 flies, it costs $70,000, making it one of the most expensive fighters in the world to fly.

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To complicate the situation even more, the U.S. is the only country that owns it… and it’s not an aircraft intended to be sold abroad, so its costs cannot be lowered by selling it to other nations. The F-22 is one of the rare pieces of military hardware that the US didn’t export to other nations because it is packed with classified technology.

This is the reason why 33 of the oldest F-22 are going to be retired soon, representing 20% of the F-22 fleet.

Experts consider it’s much better to use more F-35s

1024px F 22A and F 35A over Emerald Coast
F-22A and F-35A by Master Sgt. Jeremy T. Lock

Another option that seemed viable was to modernize the F-22 fleet, but for the Pentagon, this would mean a very high-cost move too. The Pentagon is already developing the F-22 successor under the Next-Generation Air Dominance program.

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In fact, modernizing the F-22 would cost $54.5 million per aircraft. With that amount, it would be possible to increase the F-35 fleet, which in the long run would have a lower operational cost and are aircraft with modern technologies.

In addition, in 20 years, the F-22 will probably be obsolete, and it’s better to invest in the F-35s, which are set to be operational until 2070.

F-22 and F-35 specifications

F-22 RAPTOR STEALTH FIGHTER
F-22 RAPTOR STEALTH FIGHTER by manhhai. Licensed under CC by 2.0

F-22     

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  • Crew: 1
  • Length: 18.92 meters (62 feet 1 inch)
  • Height: 5.08 meters (16 feet 8 inches)
  • Max takeoff weight: 83,500 pounds (38,000 kilograms)
  • Range: 1,800 miles, 3,000 kilometers
  • Maximum Speed: Mach 2.25 (1,500 mph, 2,414 km/h)    
  • Service ceiling: 65,000 feet     
  • Radar Cross Section: .0015 m2   
  • Flight-hour costs: $58,000  

F-35

  • Crew: 1
  • Length: 15.7 meters (51.4 feet)
  • Height: 4.4 meters (14.4 feet)
  • Max takeoff weight: 70,000 pounds (31,751 kilograms)
  • Range: 1,700 miles, 2,800 kilometers
  • Maximum Speed: Mach 1.6
  • Service ceiling: 50,000 feet
  • Radar Cross Section: .0001 m2
  • Flight-hour costs: $32,500-36,000

Although, in some ways, the F-22 seems to be better than the F-35, the F-35 has the most modern technologies and is also exploitable by other countries.

This may be the beginning of the end of the F-22

The F-22 marked a before and after in the USAF, but due to its high maintenance costs, its days are probably numbered – and other aircraft such as the F-35 have a better future for air defense in the US.

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However, we will still see the F-22 Raptor for at least another twenty years, but apparently, less and less of these fighter jets will be in the air until it is completely phased out.


Feature image credit: F-22 Raptor by Master. Public Domain.