Yes, there was a possibility of taking the F-22 Raptor and making it into a stealth bomber. Here is the story of the FB-22 Bomber: The F-22 Raptor remains the world’s premier fifth-generation stealth fighter aircraft. The F-22 program’s high costs, however, led to its early cancelation in 2009. Prior to its cancelation, the F-22 Raptor program on more than one occasion looked as though it may have spawned separate Raptor variants. The U.S. Navy, for example, explored the possibility of developing a naval variant of the F-22 Raptor in the early 1990s. And in the early to mid-2000s, the Air Force gave some serious consideration to the idea of developing a strike bomber variant of the Raptor. This program never took off, however, with the Air Force instead choosing to pursue the development of a wholly new long-range bomber aircraft.
F-22 Program History
In the 1980s, the United States Air Force kicked off its Advanced Tactical Fighter Program in an effort to begin the development of a next-generation fighter aircraft that could serve as a counter to the emerging threat presented by advanced Soviet fighters such as the MiG-29 and the Su-27. Two prototype fighters were developed and selected as finalists for the competition: Lockheed Martin’s YF-22 and Northrop’s YF-23. A final competition was held in the early 1990s to determine the final design of the Air Force’s future air superiority fighter, and while the YF-23 was in some ways superior to the YF-22 – offering both improved range and stealth capabilities – the YF-22 was eventually selected as the winner. Despite the YF-23’s advantages, the Air Force proceeded with its competitor because of Lockheed’s much better sales job and because the Air Force believed that Lockheed would prove to be more successful at managing the program.
The Raptor would enter into production and testing in 1997 and into operational service in 2005. The Raptor program, however, experienced significant cost overruns and schedule delays, the magnitude of which was only enhanced when compared to the Navy’s F/A 18 E/F Super Hornet Program, which began around the same time as the Raptor program but which proceeded much more smoothly; by the early stages of the war in Iraq, the Super Hornet had already entered into full production and operational combat service.
Concerns regarding the F-22’s cost would emerge, and disagreements between the aircraft’s supporters and its detractors over how to properly assess the Raptor’s costs began to play out. According to the Congressional Research Service, as of December 2010, an F-22 carried a nearly $370 million price tag.
In 2009, the F-22 Raptor program would be cut, and the total number of Raptors to be purchased by the Air Force was capped at 187.
In 2002, Lockheed Martin began a study regarding the development of a heavily modified F-22 Raptor that would boast significantly improved air-to-ground capabilities. These capabilities would be the result of a doubling of the F-22’s range and an increase in the aircraft’s internal payload. The conceptual aircraft was referred to as the FB-22 and was never officially part of the F-22 Raptor program. Air Force officials were enthusiastic in their support for the potential FB-22 program, believing that the aircraft could serve as an ideal platform for providing close air support for future ground force operations. Air Force officials envisioned the FB-22 as serving as a stealthy, medium-range bomber that could have served as a “bridge” between the Air Force’s current bomber fleet and future bomber aircraft.
Development of design concepts for the FB-22 maintained some aspects of the F-22 Raptor such as the fighter’s avionics, with structural redesigns focused on the aircraft’s fuselage and wings. Eventually, elongated delta-shaped wings were chosen for the FB-22, which would have allowed the bomber to carry both more fuel and weapons.
This design would have seen the FB-22 able to carry a large number of small-diameter precision-guided bombs as well as munitions weighing up to 5,000 pounds. The FB-22 would also have enjoyed a maximum range of up to 1,600 miles, a significant increase over the F-22’s 600-mile maximum range.
Air Force officials reportedly envisioned a future fleet of 150 FB-22s, which the service argued would have been significantly cheaper than developing an entirely new aircraft because of the ability to leverage existing technology from the F-22.
The FB-22 bomber program would never come to fruition, however, with the 2006 Quadrennial Defense Review killing off any hopes for the program as DOD instead opted to pursue a longer-ranged bomber. While the FB-22 never materialized, it represented an interesting attempt by the Air Force to make use of an existing aircraft platform in an effort to efficiently address a capability gap.
Image Credit: Ace Combat 7 Screengrab.
Eli Fuhrman is an Assistant Researcher in Korean Studies at the Center for the National Interest and a recent graduate of Georgetown University’s Security Studies Program, where he focused on East Asian security issues and U.S. foreign and defense policy in the region.