The Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II was designed as a multirole fighter that can accommodate different weapon load-outs to suit different missions. It was specifically engineered with the ability to launch massive air attacks on air-to-air and air-to-ground targets depending on the situation at hand. The different weapon layouts are meant to accommodate a range of tactical scenarios.
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That includes a “First Day of War” loadout that is meant to preserve its “stealth” configuration; while as a conflict enters the “Third Day of War” – after an adversary’s hostile anti-air systems including sensors, air defense missiles, gun systems, and enemy aircraft are eliminated – the F-35 will no longer need to rely on its stealth. Then it can operate via its “beast mode” or “bomb truck” mode. In this case, it can deploy with externally-mounted weapons – but will of course have a much larger radar footprint.
So how does Lockheed Martin’s F-22 Raptor compare?
The F-22 Raptor – named for those birds of prey that primarily hunt and feed on vertebrates – was the first aircraft to successfully employ a combination of stealth, supercruise, maneuverability, and integrated avionics. Coupled with improved supportability, it represents an exponential leap in warfighting capabilities. Though it is primarily an air-superiority fighter, the Raptor can perform both air-to-air and air-to-ground missions.
As noted by the United States Air Force, the F-22 certainly has a significant capability to attack surface targets. In its air-to-ground configuration, the Raptor can carry two 1,000-pound GBU-32 Joint Direct Attack Munitions internally and will use onboard avionics for navigation and weapons delivery support. In addition, the future air-to-ground capability will be greatly enhanced with the addition of an upgraded radar and up to eight small-diameter bombs – while the Raptor will also carry two AIM-120s and two AIM-9s in the air-to-ground configuration.
The F-22 would thus be the type of aircraft that could play a significant role as a “Day One” fighter, where it could escort the B-2 Spirit bomber – and if the fighter remains in service long enough, the B-21 Raider. It would be able to penetrate enemy radar, clear the sky from enemy fighters, and aid in the destruction of enemy surface-to-air missiles. To perform the air-to-ground mission the F-22 carries two 1,000-pound-class GBU-32 (or two 250-pound GBU-39 Small Diameter Bomb in place of two AIM-120) Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAM), two AIM-120 (in the main weapon bays) and two AIM-9 missiles (in the side weapon bays).
Despite its capabilities, the Raptor can’t actually operate in “beast mode” – at least not the way the F-35 Lightning II can. Yet, it still can carry more missiles in its three internal weapon bays than the F-35 in stealth mode. In addition, the F-22 has the ability to fly for sustained periods supersonically, and can do so without using afterburners. The Raptor thus has can carry more missiles, and due to its higher speed and altitude, it can impact more energy onto them when firing that the F-35.
In that way, the Raptor always operates as quite the beast.
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.