F-22: The Best of the Best? Last week, the F-22 Raptor stealth fighter hit a new milestone with a new open software stack. A U.S. Air Force team tested a third-party software with the jet’s existing hardware, lending to a “new era in Department of Defense software capability development.” A press release published on August 24 by the Air Combat Command said that test pilots located at Edwards Air Force Base collaborated with software developers from the 309thSoftware Engineering Group to achieve the F-22’s new milestone. This event marks the first time any fifth-generation fighter across the globe has successfully integrated a third-party software in flight. This achievement only enhances the F-22’s status as one of the best jet’s on Earth.
The Mighty F-22 Keeps Getting Better, Explained:
Since fifth-generation platforms have historically lacked the capability to integrate third-party software, the Air Force’s joint effort to test its new Open Systems Enclave (OSE) is unprecedented. F-22 test pilot and project co-lead Maj. Allen Black told Defense Blog that “This breakthrough fundamentally changes how we can deliver combat capability to the warfighter. We’ve proven the ability to rapidly evaluate and integrate next-generation technologies developed by experts in government, industry, and academia at a lower cost with software portability across defense platforms.” Essentially, this capability makes a speedier software acquisition possible, with “apps rapidly developed, matured, and delivered to the warfighter at the push of a button,” according to the press release.
As a critical component of the Global Strike Task Force, the Raptor functions to project air superiority and defeat threats from the skies. Many military and industry experts assert that the F-22 cannot be matched by any known or projected fighter airframe. The jet’s unparalleled combination of high performance, extreme low observability, and sensor range truly make it a powerhouse machine despite being one of the oldest fifth-generation platforms around.
One of the Raptor’s strongest assets is its radar cross-section, which is estimated to be around five to ten times smaller than the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter – the U.S. military’s newest and perhaps top-notch fighter in rotation. A smaller cross-section makes the jet harder to locate and target by adversarial aircraft, making this attribute very significant for the Raptor to feature.
F-22: Why Was It Needed?
The Raptor was initially designed and developed by the U.S.-based defense contractor Lockheed Martin in the late 1990s.
The concept driving the jet, however, evolved in the Cold War era. Sadly, the jet’s fortunes would take a turn as it was costly to build, and U.S. defense officials did not see the era of great power competition with Russia and China coming in the 2000s, as they were still focused on the War on Terror.
After wanting 750 of the stealth fighters, the U.S. military would settle for only 186, something many consider a significant mistake.
In June, the Pentagon indicated that it plans to retire 33 of the F-22’s older models- roughly 20% of the U.S. Air Force’s Raptor fleet. The U.S. House and Senate Armed Services Committees are working to mandate the Air Force to upgrade its fleet of F-22 Raptor fighter jets instead of retiring them.
Due to the F-22’s unique attributes, the platform’s full retirement appears unlikely. In fact, the 2021 Raytheon Trophy was awarded to the Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson’s 525thFighter Squadron in August, making this FS the third Raptor unit to win the revered trophy.
The Raptor’s stellar qualities were perhaps best summed up by former U.S. Naval Operations Specialist Eric Wicklund, who recently told The Aviation that although there are existing threats that can defeat the F-22, “They just cannot do it fast enough for it to matter. And that means the F-22 is still the winner.”
Maya Carlin is a Middle East Defense Editor with 19FortyFive. She is also an analyst with the Center for Security Policy and a former Anna Sobol Levy Fellow at IDC Herzliya in Israel. She has by-lines in many publications, including The National Interest, Jerusalem Post, and Times of Israel.