The F-22 is a stealth, air dominance (a rank with the same meaning but a higher value of the term "air superiority") fighter with multiple capabilities, including ground attack, electronic warfare, and signals intelligence roles. It is a critical component of the USAF (United States’ Air Force) mostly due to the fact it can’t be matched by any other existing aircraft! Its owners are Lockheed Martin Aeronautics (as the primary contractor) and Boeing Integrated Defense Systems (as program partner). The F-22 finally entered U.S. service on December 15, 2005.
In 1981, the USAF began developing the Advanced Tactical Fighter (ATF): the next-generation (fifth) of air superiority fighter which will replace the F-15 Eagle with its improved capabilities, and counter world-wide threats (such as the Soviet-era Su-27 "Flanker"). During the ATF concept, two prototypes were made: Lockheed Martin’s/Boeing’s/General Dynamics’ YF-22 and Northrop’s/McDonnell Douglas’ YF-23. The competition between the two prototypes ended on 23 April 1991, when the USAF announced the winner- the YF-22.
Apparently, the YF-22 was more maneuverable and a little cheaper than the YF-23, while the YF-23 was faster, stealthier and had a bigger weapon bay and longer range than the YF-22. Moreover, Northrop’s YF-23 used new and very stealthy airframe geometry, and even changed the basic of its flight control system from electronics to optic cables, used by the newly invented Fly-By-Light system. The F-23’s systems were brand new ideas of state of the art technology, which were never used before in a fighter, whereas Lockheed’s YF-22 was clearly an evolutionary development of used and proven aerodynamic/stealth technology. The USAF’s selection was made rationally and covered performance and ability to meet the design spec, ability to meet manufacturer's internal spec, price, life-cycle-cost and development risk, but maybe the decision was also made out of the fear of using unproved technologies, thus risking the whole project with an aircraft that might not work well. We might never know which airplane was truly better, but maybe the USAF had a point choosing the safe option. Imagine what could have happened if they would have chosen a malfunctioning aircraft…
Like the F/A-18 Hornet, the F-22’s name was changed in September 2002 to F/A-22 in order to mark its new ground-attack capability (the letter A stands for “Attack”). The Raptor’s name was changed back to F-22 on 12 December 2005- three days before entering service. Also, the name “Raptor” came only in the mid-1990s. Before, it used the names “Lightning II” (after Lockheed’s World War II aircraft P-38 Lightning), “SuperStar” and “Rapier”. To avoid any misunderstandings, it should be mentioned that later, in 7 July 2006 the name “Lightning II” was given to the F-35.
The USAF originally planned to acquire 750 F-22s, but because of its high cost (started as 361million dollars, but dropped with time to 138 million dollars), the number of ordered airplanes dropped to 183. The current contract for 187 F-22s is expected to extend its production through 2011.
Although the F-22 is considered very expensive, it is not the most expensive aircraft in the United States. That title would belong to the B-2 Spirit, which cost 2.2 Billion dollars per unit. The B-2 also used more radar absorbent materials, which made its maintenance longer and much more expensive, and in comparison, it makes the F-22 seem cheap and much more cost-efficient.
The F-22’s high price might complicate its export once (or if) the USAF will be allowed to sell it, but for now selling the F-22 is still restricted by federal law, so for the next few years the USAF will stay its only owner. However, the United States will (most probably) export a different new aircraft in the near future: the F-35 Lightning II, which by estimations will be sold in very large quantities because of its amazing abilities, including vertical takeoff/landing, and great efficiency in both air to air and air to ground roles (second only to those of the F-22). It contains much of the technology used by the F-22, and most importantly, it’s much cheaper than the F-22 (it only costs 83 million dollars). Also, unlike the F-22, the F-35 will have a Navalized version that will be used by the U.S. Navy.
The F-22 has fixed inlets, and thrust vectoring engines (Pratt & Whitney F119-PW-100 turbofans), which create a thrust-to-weight ratio greater than one (it’s about 1.08:1), so it can accelerate in a vertical climb. The F-22’s top speed is classified, but a former F-22 chief test pilot named Paul Metz stated it was over 2575 km/h (1600 mph or Mach 2.42) while using afterburners. The high speed gained by the F-22 is derived from both strong engines and aerodynamic shape. One of its most special design characteristics is its internal missile bay, which prevents stealth disruptions (caused by the held missiles) and also reduces drag, benefiting both speed and combat range.
The F-22 is highly maneuverable at both subsonic (below Mach 1) and supersonic (over Mach 1) speeds. Its angle of attack (“alpha”-the angle between the chord line of a fixed-wing aircraft and the vector representing the relative motion between the aircraft and the atmosphere) can reach and be maintained as 60 degrees, without completely losing the ability to roll. The F-22 is also capable of functioning as a “mini-AWACS”, by quickly identifying and designating targets for cooperating F-15s and F-16s, and even determining if some airplanes are targeting the same enemy aircraft.
While remaining stealthy, the F-22 can avoid radar signature, visual, infrared, acoustic, and radio frequency. As mentioned, radar detection is no obstacle for the raptor (although many earlier versions of stealth aircraft were less radar detectable), thanks to its stealth capability, and advanced equipment. The F-22 uses the Northrop Grumman AN/APG-77 Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar, which passively receives radar signals from the environment, and enables the F-22 to limit its own radar emission which might otherwise compromise its stealth. The AN/APG-77 AESA is composed of more than 30 antennas blended well with the aircraft’s fuselage and wings. It features a low-observable, active-aperture, electronically-scanned array with a range of up to 240 km (150 miles) that can track multiple targets in all kinds of weather and even focus its emissions to overload enemy sensors, giving the aircraft an electronic-attack capability. The information gathered by the AN/APG-77 is processed by two Raytheon Common Integrated Processors. Each processor has 300 megabytes of memory and operates 10,500,000,000 instructions per second!
Throughout 2007during the Red Flag exercise, and in all of its fighting simulations, the F-22 proved itself every time superior in every phpect, and capable of achieving victory where most other airplanes would fail. The best results came in 2008 after an Operational Readiness Inspection simulation, where the F-22 received an “excellent” rating in all categories and ended up with a kill to loss ratio of 221-0! As mentioned before, the F-22 is the best air superiority fighter there is, and also the best in the air to ground role among multi-role airplanes. It is stealthy to all the existing spectrums of sensors, it can perform as a small AWACS, and it exploits the latest warfare technology. The F-22 is truly an appropriate substitute for the F-15, and it will do no less than perfect in every task assigned to it by the USAF.