It is one of the only fifth-generation stealth warplanes, the others including the F-35, the Russian Su-57, and China’s J-20. I’m going to give the F-22 the distinction of being the best overall fighter plane, with the F-35 coming in at a close second. Let’s take a look at what makes the F-22 so great.
F-22: Stealth and Speed
For starters, the F-22 combines stealth with great speed and maneuverability – performance factors that pilots love. The F-22 is an air superiority fighter, while the F-35 is intended for multi-role missions. So if what we want is straight-up flying ability and air dominance, the F-22 wins. Its combination of stealth, supercruise, and high-speed aerodynamics means it can best enemy air defenses and deliver its weapons. It is lethal.
If speed is what you need, the F-22 does not disappoint. It can hit Mach-2.2, versus Mach-1.6 for the F-35. The Su-57 needs full afterburner to reach Mach-2.2, while the J-20 can speed along at Mach-2.0. Powering the F-22’s speed are its two thrust-vectoring engines – Pratt & Whitney F119s.
The F119 is an afterburning turbofan with 35,000 pounds of thrust. The engine enables fuel-saving supercruise, attaining fast speed without afterburners. The two-dimensional pitch of the thrust-vectoring exhaust nozzle enables twenty degrees up or down. This feature, as well as a high thrust-to-weight ratio, gives the F-22 its enviable maneuverability, as well as control that outclasses the competition. The F-22 has a range of 1,850 miles with two external fuel tanks. Its ceiling is at least 50,000 feet.
The Greatest Show Above the Earth
F-22 pilots can’t get enough of the fighter jet’s agility and its aptitude for difficult maneuvers. The F-22 executes several aerial feats in a 60-second recruiting video played to theater audiences before showings of Top Gun: Maverick. The video showcases the Power Loop, a maneuver that uses thrust vectoring to perform a high-speed loop. It was so powerful it gave one pilot slight feelings of vertigo. Then we see the signature Raptor Slide, when the pilot “maintains a controlled backwards slide before repositioning to pull out of the maneuver.” Finally, the pilot executes a J-Turn, or Herbst Maneuver, taking a high angle of attack to quickly reverse direction. This is a highly regarded dogfighting technique.
These tactics will allow the F-22 to get first kills in the early days of aerial combat, clearing the way for bombers with stand-off missiles and other munitions. The excellent sensor suite and Synthetic Aperture Radar tracks multiple targets and gives the F-22 its situational awareness. Digital files automatically identify adversarial airplanes.
Well-Armed and Expensive
To make sure no enemy fighter escapes alive, the Raptor carries six AIM-120 AMRAAMs and two AIM-9 Sidewinders that can attack at multiple angles. There are three internal weapons bays. The F-22 can attack ground targets as well, using two 1,000-pound GBU-32 Joint Direct Attack Munitions or eight 250-pound Small Diameter Bombs. There is also an M61A2 20mm cannon with 480 rounds. The F-22 has a ground attack combat history, with numerous bombing sorties carried out against Islamic State targets.
All of these capabilities do not come cheap. Each tail cost $143 million, and the Air Force has an estimated 183 F-22s in service.
The expense is worthwhile, and the fighter doesn’t act alone. The F-22 can operate well in tandem with the F-35, as they share a LINK 16 data link. The F-22’s cockpit communications are difficult to jam, and its electronic warfare capabilities make it hard to kill.
Overall, the F-22 provides speed, stealth, advanced computer capabilities, and avionics superiority. It is fun to fly, with numerous acrobatic moves that would dominate enemy aircraft. While the F-22 did not have an enemy fighter to contend with during the War on Terror, its air superiority capabilities are crucial considering the rise of China and Russia. It can fly undetected, deliver weapons, and quickly return to base. We know it has the ability to make difficult turns and loops. With all of these attributes, the F-22 has to be considered the best fighter in the world.
Expert Biography: Serving as 1945’s Defense and National Security Editor, Dr. Brent M. Eastwood is the author of Humans, Machines, and Data: Future Trends in Warfare. He is an Emerging Threats expert and former U.S. Army Infantry officer. You can follow him on Twitter @BMEastwood. He holds a Ph.D. in Political Science and Foreign Policy/ International Relations.