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Coming Soon: A ‘New’ F-22 Raptor Stealth Fighter? (Pictures)

F-22 Raptor
F-22 Raptor. Image Credit: U.S. Air Force Social Media.

Coming Soon: Upgraded F-22 Raptor – Images circulated on social media last week may have provided an official look at the new capabilities of the Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor and possibly a glimpse of the still-classified AIM-260 Joint Advanced Tactical Missile (JATM).

“15 years ago today, ACC gave the F-22A Raptor demonstration the official seal of approval. The F-22 was then the world’s only 5th gen fighter – more advanced & capable than anything else in the world in maneuverability, stealth, supercruise, integrated avionics, & supportability,” wrote General Mark D. Kelly, commander of the Air Combat Command, via a post on Twitter from the verified @ACC_Commander account.

The images of the F-22 Raptor were also posted to the Meta-owned Instagram. Still, Gen. Kelly made no claims about the accuracy of the artistic rendering – but experts have suggested that the artwork likely shares a close resemblance to the upgrades expected to be completed to the first fifth-generation stealth combat fighter.

The two pods seen under the outer underwing hardpoints have already been spotted during flight testing on a Raptor in February at the Air Force’s Plant 42 facility in Palmdale, California, reported. However, it remains unclear what kind of systems may actually be housed within the two pods – but there is speculation that one could be an Electronic Warfare (EW) pod, or perhaps the long-promised Infrared Search and Track (IRST) system upgrade. Whatever the actual use of the pod, it has also been reported that it was likely specifically developed for use with the Lockheed Martin F-22 so as not to degrade the air superiority aircraft’s Radar Cross Section (RCS).

JATM Depicted?

Another image, which showed three F-22s flying in formation, appeared to show the aircraft, each equipped with stealthy extended-range fuel tanks; while the aircraft in the foreground had launched a missile. It was believed that it wasn’t meant to depict either AIM-120 Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile or an AIM-9X Sidewinder, the two air-to-air missiles known to be qualified for the fighter – which has led to the conjecture that it could be the AIM-260 JATM instead.

The beyond visual range air-to-air missile (BVRAAM) is currently being developed by Lockheed Martin to address advanced threats, and is expected to replace the AIM-120 that is currently in U.S. service. It is reported to have a maximum firing range of 200 km and initial launch platforms do include the F-22 as well as the United States Navy’s F/A-18E/F, with integration also slated for the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II in the future.

F-22 Raptor

F-22 Raptor. Image Credit: Social Media/Twitter

The AIM-260 JATM reportedly began flight tests last year and is scheduled to achieve initial operational capability (IOC) later in 2022. Its production is also expected to overtake AIM-120 production by 2026.

Upgrading the Updating the Raptor

Production of the F-22 ended in 2021, but there are some 187 of the advanced stealth fighters currently in service with the United States Air Force, and those aircraft are scheduled to receive steady upgrades through at least 2031. The Air Force has already invested some $12 billion to continually upgrade the F-22 since production of the aircraft ended.

“We need every combat platform to go farther, sense farther, and shoot farther. This illustration is simply an artist rendering of an F-22 aircraft with any number of future capabilities,” an ACC spokesperson told Air Force Magazine in response to whether the artwork was meant to show new F-22 systems.

The single-seat, twin-engine, all-weather stealth tactical fighter first entered service in 2005 and has been steadily updated. Even today, it is widely regarded as the most dominant fighter in the world.

The F-22 Raptor is respected for its dogfighting ability and air-to-air maneuverability attributes, especially when compared with any other potential rival. The Raptor is solely operated by the United States Air Force, as it was developed as part of the service’s Advanced Tactical Fighter (ATF) program two decades ago as an air superiority fighter that could also be capable of ground attack, electronic warfare and signals intelligence.

F-22 Raptor

F-22 Raptor. Image Credit: Social Media – Twitter.

Powered by two Pratt & Whitney turbofan engines and is capable of reaching speeds of Mach 2 (1,534 mph/2,469 kph). The F-22 has a ceiling of 50,000 feet (15 kilometers) and a range of 1,841 miles (2,962 km) without refueling.

The Air Force had originally planned to buy a total of 750 of the F-22s, but the program was cut short to 187 operational aircraft, in addition to the eight test models that had been produced. The high costs of the program, as well as a lack of clear air-to-air missions due to delays in Russian and Chinese fighter programs along with a ban on exports, resulted in the Air Force’s scaling back. The last F-22 Raptor was delivered in 2012.

Now a Senior Editor for 1945, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He regularly writes about military hardware, and is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes.

Written By

Expert Biography: A Senior Editor for 1945, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites with over 3,000 published pieces over a twenty-year career in journalism. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity, and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu.