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Super Raptors: The Air Force Is Making Big Changes to the F-22 Stealth Fighter

F-22 Upgrades
Image: Creative Commons.

The F-22 Raptor is not What the Air Force Needs in the Future — but the Fleet Will Be Upgraded Anyway: The F-22 Raptor stealth fighter is the best air superiority fighter ever, but it is not the right tool for defending American interests in Asia.

 An F-22 Raptor Upgrade Is Coming

The U.S. Department of Defense wants to upgrade the U.S. Air Force’s F-22 Raptor fleet in what could be the stealth fighter’s most significant enhancement ever

“Lockheed Martin Corp., Fort Worth, Texas, has been awarded a $10,863,000,000 indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity contract for Advanced Raptor Enhancement & Sustainment (ARES) for the F-22 Program Office,” a Department of Defense contract award announcement reads

“This contract vehicle provides support for the necessary supplies and services to sustain and modernize the F-22 Raptor, including modernization hardware kit procurement and services such as upgrades, enhancements and fixes, as well as performance-based logistics services.”

What upgrades Lockheed would integrate into the F-22 are not known for sure. However, improvements to the Raptor’s stealth coating could be expected, as could digital interface upgrades.

The work is expected to take a decade to fully implement “if all options are utilized.” The Department of Defense expects work to be finished by October 31st, 2031.

The United States Air Force is the world’s sole F-22 operator and operates a fleet of 186 Raptors. However, thanks to the so-called Obey Amendment made to the 1998 Department of Defense Appropriations Act, the United States government barred the F-22 from export. The export band combined with the end of Cold War hostilities following the collapse of the Soviet Union drastically reduced F-22 Raptor production to less than 200 from an anticipated 750.

Bridging the Air Gap

In an interview with Defense News, Lt. Gen. Clinton Hinote, Air Force deputy chief of staff for strategy, integration, and requirements, explained that the F-22 Raptor is essentially a bridge platform until the Air Force can field the Next Generation Air Dominance platform.

The first F-22 prototype made its maiden flight in 1991, and by the time this round of upgrades and improvements are fully implemented, the F-22 will essentially be around 40 years old.

Lt. Gen. Hinote noted that the F-22 is “just not going to be the right tool for the job, especially when we’re talking about defending our friends like Taiwan and Japan and the Philippines against a Chinese threat that grows and grows.”

Here Come the Super F-22 Raptors

Though the F-22 is without a doubt one of the world’s best fighter jets, it might be superseded in the near future by 6th generation aircraft, some of which have reportedly already flown. But until a wider 6th gen fighter roll-out, America’s flying branch will have to rely on their Raptors.

Caleb Larson is a multimedia journalist and Defense Writer. He lives in Berlin and covers the intersection of conflict, security, and technology, focusing on American foreign policy, European security, and German society.

Written By

Caleb Larson, a defense journalist based in Europe and holds a Master of Public Policy degree from the Willy Brandt School of Public Policy. He lives in Berlin and writes on U.S. and Russian foreign and defense policy, German politics and culture.



  1. Louis C MAZZELLA

    November 9, 2021 at 5:38 pm

    Thank you idiots who run the government and the military.With china on the warpath why would you want the best fighter jet ?You wouldn’t want to win for a change ?Even though that’s what your getting paid for.

  2. Curtis

    November 10, 2021 at 2:08 am

    I would imagine two jets for Asia, The B-21 and the F-23. (Not F-22) Both of these being air refueled. And about the Navy? Let their ships be carriers of missiles if anything.

    The Air airplanes and the Navy missles and ground based missles of the Marines and Navy submarines and American leadership is what will be needed to win this conflict.

  3. Bill Gilpin

    November 10, 2021 at 3:29 am

    “not the right tool” only because it’s a competitive environment and therefore the tool that’s needed in the future will always be better than what we have now

  4. Mdub

    November 10, 2021 at 7:40 am

    First off the raptor will be 30 years old. Exactly. You can’t just add ten years to make your point sound better. Secondly, no other countries have even gotten past the drawing board for 6th gen aircraft. Some have successfully flown 5th gen aircraft but no country has more than a handful of these jets and reports seem to suggest they still fall behind the f-22. I imagine after these upgrades the f-22 will continue to be dominate the air and to me that seems like a good thing no matter who we fight.

  5. Alex

    December 4, 2021 at 3:17 pm

    I do not know of a single defensive war in the United States. Only offensive. Don’t you sit at home? Only two countries can stop the United States – Russia and China. In the event of an attack, it will not work to sit out overseas – in a few minutes the Mexican-Canadian Strait will be formed.

  6. Tony

    December 8, 2021 at 9:44 pm

    “Only two countries can stop the United States – Russia and China. In the event of an attack, it will not work to sit out overseas – in a few minutes the Mexican-Canadian Strait will be formed.” – Alex

    What fool thinks we are suicidal?That said, if either Russia or China have an unquenchable desire to have installed the world’s largest collection of glass parking lots, we aim to please. And you know the American motto from the Cold War was “Can Do!” Today, to quote a certain comedian, it’s “Git ‘r done!”

    We got your “paving contract” option right here. Just say the word. Our pavers know no obstacles they cannot overcome. But don’t worry. We prefer not to be in the glass parking lot business. It’s a dying market.

  7. PNW Strategist

    December 13, 2021 at 1:36 am

    The decision to move forward with an update/upgrade is a wise one and one it had a long time coming. The USAF had held back investing in the Raptor even when some upgrades, such as the Side looking AESA Array, would add another layer of lethality to the platform (and solidify its preeminence) in hopes any future investment in the Air Superiority requirement would go the 6th Generation platform. However, even with all the advancement conducted in the NGAD program we must assume that near peer competitors will progress their own programs to surpass the Raptor before the NGAD is in full production if the Raptor stays in its current state. Therefore, a series of serial updates/upgrades (Block 30 – 40) should be more than welcome.

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