The age of the Navy’s F/A-18 fleet is one key reason why the Pentagon once considered making the F-22 a carrier-launched aircraft, something which would have potentially introduced a first-of-its-kind sea-launched stealth jet years ahead of the F-35C.
A stealthy, fifth-generation F/A-18 replacement did not exist in the years prior to the emergence of a carrier-launched stealth fighter with the F-35C.
F-22 Raptor Can Do It All
The need for a carrier-based fighter like the F-22 clearly did exist.
For years leading up to and after the arrival of the F-35C, the Navy consistently sought to acquire more Block III Super Hornet F/A-18 aircraft. Yearly Navy budgets in 2013, 2014, and 2015 consistently placed a sizable amount of F/A-18s on the unfunded priorities list, something which showed the need for a new platform or bridge to extend sea-launched air attack until the F-35C could become operational in the early 2020s.
While the F/A-18 is a combat-proven, reliable platform, which has been massively upgraded over the years, it is by no means stealthy. Therefore, a stealthy fighter jet such as a Navy variant of the F-22 for carrier attack would certainly expand the power projection possibilities for Carrier Air Wings.
A maritime F-22 would have offered a high-speed, air-superiority complement to the F/A-18 and F-35C. The question this raises is would such a development have further delayed the F/A-XX program currently in development, should a maritime variant of the F-22 exist?
Air Force leaders and F-22 maintainers have made specific efforts to ensure F-22s can attack anywhere in the world within 24 hours, perhaps as part of an effort to compensate for the inability to launch F-22s from the sea. With a program called Rapid Raptor, the Air Force ensures rapid F-22 response globally by forward positioning aircraft and maintainers in certain high-threat, yet difficult-to-reach areas.
The inability to launch F-22 attacks from the ocean may be one key reason the Air Force is strengthening its “Rapid Raptor” program. The program is designed to fast-track four F-22s to war – anywhere in the world – within 24 hours, on a moment’s notice, should there be an immediate need for attacks in today’s pressured, fast-moving global threat environment.
The Rapid Raptor program prepares four F-22s with the requisite crew members, C-17 support, fuel, maintenance, and weapons necessary to execute a fast-attack “first-strike” ability in remote or austere parts of the world. The F-22 could support a rapid reaction force and respond quickly to any potential global crisis.
The success of the land-launched, forward-positioned F-22, which had its combat debut against ISIS in 2014 performing Close Air Support missions, has indeed likely inspired the development and acceleration of the Navy’s 6th-generation carrier attack programs.
Author Expertise and Biography
Kris Osborn is the Military Affairs Editor of 19FortyFive and President of Warrior Maven – Center for Military Modernization. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Masters Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.