The true measure of its worth

An F-22 Raptor cools down after a 10-hour flight Jan. 10 from Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii, to Kadena Air Base, Japan.  (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Amanda Grabiec)

An F-22 Raptor cools down after a 10-hour flight Jan. 10 from Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii, to Kadena Air Base, Japan. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Amanda Grabiec)

The Senate chamber rang out with a surprising number of claims that the F-22, to put it bluntly, was just not that great a fighter. The Pentagon leadership told the Senate that the triservice F-35 is “a half generation newer aircraft” and “more capable” in some areas. Obama himself, in the wake of the Senate vote, dismissed the F-22 as just one of many “outdated and unnecessary defense projects” sucking down tax dollars.

Is that logical? If the F-22 is so “outdated and unnecessary,” why has Congress barred its sale to our top allies—Japan, Israel, and Australia—but allows sale of the F-35, its alleged peer, to whoever wants to buy it? We intend no disparagement of the F-35, which will be a great fighter. We only mean to point out a commonsense explanation: The F-22, the most advanced fighter ever built, offers an enormous edge, and Washington is loath to risk the technological secrets of its true airpower heavyweight.

— Dudney, Robert S.  “Requiem for a Heavyweight.” Air Force magazine, September 2009. [Emphasis is mine]

The logic is unassailable, really.

Mr. Dudney, the editor-in-chief of the Air Force Association’s monthly journal, offers up that gem and others in an editorial examining the lies, half-truths and distortions marking the demise of F-22 funding.

Having a stable of 187 aircraft (of which only 115 are going to end up combat-coded) means you can no longer sweep into an anti-access environment with a surplus of stealthy aircraft and easily dominate the airborne battlefield on Day One.  Each air expeditionary wing (AEW) is going to get about half a squadron of F-22s, so those rare resources have to be shepherded and employed carefully.

The news isn’t all bad though, as F-22s can improve the chances of legacy fighters scoring kills, with the legacy birds acting as bait.

[Brig. Gen. Mark A. Barrett, former commander of Raptor unit 1st Fighter Wing at Langley AFB, VA] said that the 1st Fighter Wing has two squadrons of F-22s and one squadron of F-15s. That’s on purpose. The F-15s and F-22s operate together, he said, to “maximize the number of missiles” that hit enemy aircraft. Typically, “we’ll take out a four-ship [flight] of F-22s and an eight-ship of F-15s, and in a combined force, we will go out and fight together.”

Enemy fighters tend to point at what they can see, he explained, and when they pick up the F-15s on radar, they zero in on them. However, the F-22s, with their stealth and speed, “skirt around, avoid jamming, avoid detection, and then get a little bit closer to provide kills.” In other words, while the enemy is concentrating on the F-15, the F-22 sneaks around and kills him from another angle.

“You want to have the F-15s in a position where they can get their best probability of a kill, and you want to use the F-22s to help direct that fight and clean up what’s left,” Barrett explained.

The F-22 changes what had become a fairly equal situation, in which the F-15 and comparable fourth generation fighters could detect each other at about the same distance, employ comparable jamming methods, fire missiles, and “if both survive,” Barrett said, do it all over again until one made a mistake and died or fled the engagement. With the F-22 in the mix, enemy aircraft are seen and targeted first, and the combined force can husband its overall fuel and weapons to get the most kills possible.

— Tirpak, John A.  “The New Playbook.” Air Force magazine, September 2009.

Even with great odds it’s still a risky game.  We know even Raptors can get picked off once in a while.

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