The F-22 Raptor Is A Beast: Not surprisingly, U.S. President Joe Biden’s belated decision to shoot down a Chinese spy balloon is generating a good deal of controversy. The rationale for the delay was that shooting the balloon down over the continental United States could endanger human lives.
Speaking as someone who used to serve as a U.S. Air Force Security Forces troop at one of the nuclear missile bases that the balloon was obviously spying on, I can tell you that is a weak excuse. One of the chief reasons our ICBM bases are located where they are is their relative isolation.
Further, even if the balloon did overfly major urban areas, can you imagine Winston Churchill using that same rationale to order the Royal Air Force to not shoot down Luftwaffe warplanes over London during the Battle of Britain, or FDR ordering American sailors and airmen to not immediately shoot back against the Imperial Japanese planes attacking Pearl Harbor?
Setting aside questions of leadership, if we pivot to a purely technical perspective, an air combat historical milestone was achieved in this matter: the first air-to-air kill for the F-22 Raptor.
Hello Again, F-22 Raptor!
After all the coverage we have given to the F-35 Lightning II of late — both for its stateside woes and Israeli successes — it is nice to see the overlooked Raptor making headlines again. After all, the ever-savvy Alex Hollings of Sandboxx News did rate the F-22 as the best out of all the fifth-generation stealth fighters.
The lucky Raptor in question was assigned to the 1st Fighter Wing at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia. The F-22 pilot launched a single missile at an altitude of 58,000 feet — which is 7,000 feet below the warbird’s officially acknowledged maximum service ceiling — while the balloon hovered at an altitude between 60,000 and 65,000 feet.
From there, the balloon’s missile-shattered corpse fell approximately six miles off the coast of South Carolina in about 47 feet of water, leaving a debris field approximately seven miles wide.
The fine folks at Lockheed Martin’s Skunk Works facility are undoubtedly proud of their product’s achievement. The F-22 is simply amazing.
Score Another One for the Sidewinder
It isn’t only the folks at Lockheed Martin who are doing a happy dance over the field-proving of their product. The equally fine folks at Raytheon are undoubtedly beaming with pride as well. The missile used by that as-yet-unidentified Raptor driver was one of their babies, the AIM-9X, the latest iteration of the infrared-tracking (heat-seeking) AIM-9 Sidewinder air-to-air missile that has been blasting enemy aircraft since September 1958.
The AIM-9X variant has already proven its killer capabilities against unmanned aerial vehicles, as demonstrated by an F-15E Strike Eagle pilot & weapons system officer in the skies over Syria back in August 2021.
As Raytheon’s official info page states, the Sidewinder missile “is a triple-threat missile that can be used for air-to-air engagements, surface-attack and surface-launch missions without modifications.
“The AIM-9X Block II missile adds a redesigned fuze and a digital ignition safety device to improve handling and in-flight safety. It’s equipped with updated electronics, including a lock-on-after-launch capability using a new weapon datalink to support beyond visual range engagements.”
What Would Bob Gates Think?
Now that the Raptor has finally been blooded in air-to-air combat, albeit against an unmanned, unarmed balloon, one cannot help but wonder what then-Secretary of Defense Bob Gates now thinks of his 2009 decision to shortchange the F-22 program.
Gates put the kibosh on production after only 195 airframes were built — about half of what had been planned.
If any of our dear readers out there happen to know Gates personally, please do me a favor and pass my question on to him.
Christian D. Orr is a former Air Force Security Forces officer, Federal law enforcement officer, and private military contractor (with assignments worked in Iraq, the United Arab Emirates, Kosovo, Japan, Germany, and the Pentagon). Chris holds a B.A. in International Relations from the University of Southern California (USC) and an M.A. in Intelligence Studies (concentration in Terrorism Studies) from American Military University (AMU). He has also been published in The Daily Torch and The Journal of Intelligence and Cyber Security. Last but not least, he is a Companion of the Order of the Naval Order of the United States (NOUS). In his spare time, he enjoys shooting, dining out, cigars, Irish and British pubs, travel, USC Trojans college football, and Washington DC professional sports. If you’d like to pick his brain in-person about his writings, chances are you’ll be able to find him at the Green Turtle Pasadena in Maryland on Friday nights, singing his favorite karaoke tunes.